Parotid glands are saliva-producing glands located just in front of the ears. They deliver saliva to the mouth through ducts located behind the upper teeth. These glands are the largest of the salivary glands. The other major salivary glands are the sublingual and submandibular glands, and these glands are supplemented by numerous smaller glands inside the mouth.
Like the other salivary glands, the parotid glands produce saliva, which helps people to chew and swallow. A lack of saliva can cause dry mouth, which feels uncomfortable and makes it hard to eat. Saliva also serves as a lubricant which can help prevent damage to the soft mucus membranes of the mouth, reducing the risk of painful injuries and infections. When the salivary glands are not working properly, people tend to notice.
People who are interested in a bit of experimentation can stimulate their parotid glands by squirting lemon or lime juice into their mouths. The tart juice will cause the glands to release a flood of saliva, indicating that they are in working order. Doctors sometimes use this test to check on the function of the salivary glands when they suspect that a patient may be experiencing inflammation or clogging.
One common condition involving the parotid glands is parotitis, an inflammation of the glands. This inflammation can be caused by a number of things, including mumps, a childhood disease which used to be quite common. When the parotid glands become inflamed, they swell up, causing facial pain and a distinct distortion of the face around the jaw. The glands can also be be blocked by infections or calcifications, causing inflammation and pain.
In some instances, tumors can develop in the parotid glands. These tumors may be benign or cancerous, but removal is usually recommended, because of the facial pain which can be caused by tumor growth. In addition, a major facial nerve runs through these glands, and a tumor could put pressure on that nerve, causing damage. Tumor removal must be done carefully because of this nerve, as a slip of the scalpel could sever or severely damage this nerve.
Another condition which can involve the parotid glands is Sjogren's Syndrome, an autoimmune disorder in which the body starts to attack the glands which produce tears and saliva. Tears and saliva are both very important secretions, and this syndrome can cause serious complications for the patient if it is not addressed. Medications and surgery can be used to manage the condition.