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Salivary gland
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Salivary glands: #1 is Parotid gland, #2 is Submandibular gland, #3 is Sublingual gland
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Latin glandulae salivariae

The salivary glands in mammals are exocrine glands, glands with ducts, that produce saliva. They also secrete amylase, an enzyme that breaks down starch into maltose. In other organisms such as insects, salivary glands are often used to produce biologically important proteins like silk or glues, and fly salivary glands contain polytene chromosomes that have been useful in genetic research.



The glands are enclosed in a capsule of connective tissue and internally divided into lobules. Blood vessels and nerves enter the glands at the hilum and gradually branch out into the lobules.


In the duct system, the lumens formed by intercalated ducts, which in turn join to form striated ducts. These drain into ducts situated between the lobes of the gland (called interlobar ducts or secretory ducts).

All of the human salivary glands terminate in the mouth, where the saliva proceeds to aid in digestion. The saliva that salivary glands release is quickly inactivated in the stomach by the acid that is present there.


The salivary glands are situated at the entrance to the gastrointestinal system to help begin the process of digestion.

Parotid Glands

Submandibular Glands

The submandibular glands are a pair of glands located beneath the lower jaws, superior to the digastric muscles. The secretion produced is a mixture of both serous fluid and mucus, and enters the oral cavity via Wharton's ducts. Approximately 70% of saliva in the oral cavity is produced by the submandibular glands, even though they are much smaller than the parotid glands.

Sublingual Gland

The sublingual glands are a pair of glands located beneath the tongue to the submandibular glands. The secretion produced is mainly mucous in nature, however it is categorized as a mixed gland. Unlike the other two major glands, the ductal system of the sublingual glands do not have striated ducts, and exit from 8-20 excretory ducts. Approximately 5% of saliva entering the oral cavity come from these glands.

Minor Salivary Glands

There are over 600 minor salivary glands located throughout the oral cavity within the lamina propria of the oral mucosa. They are 1-2mm in diameter and unlike the other glands, they are not encapsulated by connective tissue only surrounded by it. The gland is usually a number of acini connected in a tiny lobule. A minor salivary gland may have a common excretory duct with another gland, or may have its own excretory duct. Their secretion is mainly mucous in nature (except for Von Ebner's glands) and have many functions such as coating the oral cavity with saliva. Problems with dentures are usually associated with minor salivary glands.[1]

Von Ebner's Glands

Von Ebner's glands are glands found in circumvallate papillae of the tongue. They secrete a serous fluid that begin lipid hydrolysis. They are an essential component of taste.


Salivary glands are innervated, either directly or indirectly, by the parasympathetic and sympathetic arms of the autonomic nervous system. Both result in increased amylase output and volume flow.

  • Parasympathetic innervation to the salivary glands is carried via cranial nerves. The parotid gland receives its parasympathetic input from the glossopharyngeal nerve (CN IX) via the otic ganglion, while the submandibular and sublingual glands receive their parasympathetic input from the facial nerve (CN VII) via the submandibular ganglion. These nerves release acetylcholine and substance P, which activate the IP3 and DAG pathways respectively.
  • Direct sympathetic innervation of the salivary glands takes place via preganglionic nerves in the thoracic segments T1-T3 which synapse in the superior cervical ganglion with postganglionic neurons that release norepinephrine, which is then received by β-adrenergic receptors on the acinar and ductal cells of the salivary glands, leading to an increase in cyclic adenosine monophosphate (cAMP) levels and the corresponding increase of saliva secretion. Note that in this regard both parasympathetic and sympathetic stimuli result in an increase in salivary gland secretions.[2] The sympathetic nervous system also affects salivary gland secretions indirectly by innervating the blood vessels that supply the glands.

Role in disease

Micrograph of chronic inflammation of the salivary gland sialadenitis).
See mumps (parotiditis epidemica), Sjögren's syndrome, Mucocele, and Salivary gland neoplasm.

Salivary duct calculus may cause blockage of the ducts, causing pain and swelling of the gland.

Tumors of the salivary glands may occur.

Diagnostic investigation

A sialogram is a radiocontrast study of a salivary duct.

In other animals

In most vertebrates, saliva does not contain any enzymes, consisting of mucus and water only, and its primary function is to moisten food while eating. As a result, true salivary glands are rarely found in fish or aquatic tetrapods, although there are often individual mucus-secreting cells. Amphibians have a single salivary gland, the intermaxillary gland, located in the forward part of the palate. Reptiles and birds normally have only very small glands on the lips, palate, and base of the mouth, although there are some birds with large glands, which produce a sticky saliva that helps in nest-building. The distinct parotid, submandibular, and sublingual glands are only developed in mammals.[3]

The salivary glands of some species, however, are modified to produce enzymes; salivary amylase is found in many, but by no means all, bird and mammal species (including humans, as noted above). Furthermore, the venom glands of poisonous snakes, Gila monsters, and some shrews, are modified salivary glands.[3]

See also


  1. ^ Cate, A.R. Ten. hi dude Oral Histology: development, structure, and function. 5th ed. 1998. Page 3. ISBN 0-8151-2952-1.
  2. ^ Costanzo, L. (2006). Physiology, 3rd ed.. Saunders Elsevier. ISBN 10:1-4160-2320-8. 
  3. ^ a b Romer, Alfred Sherwood; Parsons, Thomas S. (1977). The Vertebrate Body. Philadelphia, PA: Holt-Saunders International. pp. 299-300. ISBN 0-03-910284-X. 
  • Venturi S, Venturi M. (2009). Iodine in evolution of salivary glands and in oral health. Nutrition and Health. 20 :119–134. PMID: 19835108
  • Bahar, G., Feinmesser, R., Shpitzer, T., Popovtzer, A. and Nagler, R.M. (2007). Salivary analysis in oral cancer patients: DNA and protein oxidation, reactive nitrogen species, and antioxidant profile. Cancer, 109, 54–9.
  • Banerjee, R.K., Bose, A.K., Chakraborty, T.K., de, S.K. and Datta, A.G. (1985). Peroxidase-catalysed iodotyrosine formation in dispersed cells of mouse extrathyroidal tissues. J Endocrinol. 2, 159–65.
  • Banerjee, R.K. and datta, A.G. (1986). Salivary peroxidases. Mol Cell Biochem, 70, 21-9.
  • Bartelstone, H. J. (1951). Radioiodine penetration through intact enamel with uptake by bloodstream and thyroid gland. J Dent Res. 5 :728–33.
  • Bartelstone, H.J., Mandel, I.D., Oshry, E. and Seidlin, S.M. (1947). Use of radioactive iodine as a tracer in the Study of the Physiology of teeth. Science. 106, 132.

External links

Simple English

The salivary glands make saliva. Saliva keeps the mouth and other parts of the digestive system wet. It also helps break down carbohydrates (with salivary amylase, formerly known as ptyalin) and keeps food wet and slippery so it can go down from the oro-pharynx to the esophagus to the stomach.

There are three main pairs of salivary glands. They are

  1. the parotid,
  2. the submandibular and
  3. the sublingual glands.

There are also many small glands in the tongue, cheeks, lips and palate. All of those glands make mucous.


Histology (The cells in the salivary gland)

There are two types of epithelial cells in salivary glands. They make either mucous or serous secretions. The parotid gland makes serous secretions. The submandibular and submaxillary glands have both types of cells. They make a mixture of mucous and serous.

Classification(Different kinds of salivary glands)

The three types of salivary glands are serous mixed and mucous glands.

  • The parotid gland is the only serous gland. This gland makes serous secretions only. It has cells called serous acini.
  • The submandibular glands are mixed glands. They give serous and mucous. These glands have serous acini and mucus acini cells.
  • The sublingual glands make mucus secretions. They have only mucous acini cells.

Structure (How the salivary glands are built)

The glands are inside a bag, called a capsule, of connective tissue. Inside, it is made of little parts called lobules. Blood vessels and nerves go into the glands at the hilum and go out into the lobules. There are 3 main types of cells in the major salivary glands:

  1. Serous cells. They are shaped like a pyramid. They are joined together in a group that is shaped like a ball. The ball is called an acinus, with a small lumen in the centre.
  2. Mucous cells are usually shaped like a cube. They are joined together to make a tubules, which are very small tubes. These cells make glycoproteins that make saliva wet and slippery.
  3. Myoepithelial cells are all around the part of the gland where the saliva comes out. They can squeeze the saliva gland so the saliva comes out faster.

The small tubes go into ducts. Those ducts go into larger ducts that have little stripes on them, called striations. Those go into ducts between the lobes of the gland (called interlobar or excretory ducts). The main duct of the salivary glands then goes into the mouth.

Where are the glands?

There are three salivary glands:

  • The two parotid glands are near the ear (par- = next to, -otid = ear). They are the largest salivary glands.
  • The sublingual gland(“sub-= under, “lingu-= tongue”) is under the tongue.
  • The submandibular gland is in the shape of a “U”. It is under the chin bone which is called the mandible.

Role in disease

See mumps (parotiditis epidemica) and Sjögren syndrome.

Salivary duct calculus may block the ducts. This would cause pain and swelling of the gland.

Tumors of the salivary glands can occur. These are usually benign, but can be malignant. The most common type of benign tumor is Pleomorphic adenoma, followed by Warthin's tumor. The most common malignant tumor is Mucoepidermoid carcinoma.

Diagnostic investigation

A sialogram is a radiocontrast study of a salivary duct.

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