Many structures within the mouth are unseen, yet are crucial in performing daily functions, such as chewing or speech. The parotid gland is one of the often silent, but important, oral structures.
What Is the Parotid Papilla Gland?
The parotid gland is the largest salivary gland in the body. Saliva is a substance secreted by several salivary glands. It aids in cleaning the mouth, moisturizing the food you eat for easier chewing, and starting the digestion of food particles before they enter your stomach.
The parotid gland has a small tube, called the Stensen duct, that connects it to the inside of your mouth. Saliva flows through the duct into your mouth via a small opening, which is the parotid papilla. The parotid papilla is inside your mouth, very close to the ear canal.
The parotid gland and parotid papilla are significant to your oral health they help store and secrete saliva, which helps you avoid problems that can arise when your mouth gets dry. Dry mouth, also known as xerostomia, can contribute to cavities and painful eating.
Parotid Gland Problems
Issues that are common with the parotid gland include tumors (cysts), salivary stones or infections. If a problem arises with your parotid gland or duct, you may notice swelling, fever, bad taste in your mouth, pain or dry mouth and lips. If any of these symptoms occur, you should contact a dental professional for an oral evaluation.
Tumors or cysts can form in the tissues of the parotid gland, much like in other body tissues. If you think you have a cyst or feel an abnormal swelling in any area of your mouth, schedule an appointment with your dental professional. While some cysts may drain on their own, it's better to get them removed, explains Cedars-Sinai. That's because a cyst may disrupt eating, speaking or swallowing. Additionally, you may want to have your dentist rule out anything that may not be benign.
Sialoliths, also known as salivary stones, are small collections of minerals that stick together, forming a small ball or rock formation, says the National Institutes of Health. When they get caught in the duct, these tiny rocks, much like kidney stones, can cause problems with the flow of saliva from the gland to the papilla and into your mouth. This can be painful, as well — as saliva is blocked, it builds up significant pressure. Over time, impaired saliva flow can also lead to a salivary gland infection.
Preventing Salivary Gland Problems
Most salivary problems can be prevented by drinking enough water and using good daily oral hygiene habits. A soft-bristled toothbrush such as the Colgate 360° Advanced 4 Zone toothbrush can access all areas of the teeth, tongue, cheeks and gums for thorough cleansing and plaque removal. In addition, an antibacterial toothpaste and rinse can kill germs in your mouth and decrease your chances of a salivary gland infection. Make sure your medicine cabinet is stocked with the right tools to keep your saliva flowing and your mouth happy.