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Salivary glands

General characteristics

General characteristics

The salivary glands are the structures located in the mouth and around the jaw and neck, their purpose being to secrete the fluid saliva. There are three main pairs of major salivary glands and a few smaller pairs also. The main ones are the parotid glands (situated in the face just below in the ear) which secrete saliva into the upper jaws around the back molar teeth, the submandibular glands (situated on either side of the lower jaw) secrete into the mouth at the area just behind the lower front teeth near the tip of the resting tongue and the sublingual glands are below the tongue and secrete saliva from numerous openings into the area below the root of the tongue. There are also numerous tiny glands scattered throughout the mouth, inner cheeks, lower lips, tongue, soft palate and throat.

The purpose of the glands is to manufacture and secrete saliva which in turn is mixed with foods that are being chewed in order to begin the process of digestion. Saliva also lubricates the mouth, helps to prevent dental erosion, helps maintain good overall mouth health, prevents bacteria from sticking to the teeth and gums and helps to maintain correct acid/alkaline balance of pH 7.0-7.5 within the mouth.

Saliva itself is a highly complex fluid with each group of salivary glands contributing a slightly different kind of fluid to the saliva mix. Saliva itself contains mucous, water, digestive enzymes (salivary lipase and amylase used in pre-digestion of fats and starches), electrolytes, factors needed for vital tissue repair (such as taste bud repair), anti-microbial substances that fight bacteria and viruses and proteins that help to lubricate and protect the inside of the mouth and all its structures. If a substance is found in the blood of an individual, then traces of it will also be found in their saliva. When saliva production is chronically reduced (due to chemotherapy or other cancer treatments or health conditions) it can lead to an increased tendency towards tooth decay and gum disease, so freely flowing saliva is important to the health of the mouth and body overall.

The glands themselves are richly supplied with both blood vessels and nerves and are under control of the parasympathetic nerves (unconscious control) and sympathetic nerves as well as being influenced by certain hormones. Under normal resting circumstances there is a constant more or less steady flow of saliva production. Their main triggers for secretion of saliva include mechanical triggers (such as the act of chewing), olfactory (smelling something desirable to eat) and gustatory (taste dependent) but other factors influencing secretion include diseases (such as diabetes or kidney disease) medications (such as anti-histamines, cancer treatments), dehydration (lowers or stops saliva production), smoking (increases secretion), physical exercise, alcohol (both lower secretions), anxiety and depression (lower secretions), sleeping (lower secretions), and secretions are reduced as we move from standing to sitting or lying.

Problems with the salivary glands include stone formation that blocks the release of fluids into the mouth, tumours, infections such as mumps (parotid glands), lowered salivary secretions (raises the acidity of the mouth and can lead to proliferation of certain bacteria) and overproduction of saliva.

Healing objectives are to keep the salivary glands working well and secreting their correct fluids by ensuruing the body is well hydrated and well nourished. Problems with the salivary glands should not be ignored.

"Fear less, hope more; Eat less, chew more; Whine less, breathe more; Talk less, say more; Love more and all good things will be yours"

Swedish proverb.


Diet and lifestyle

Diet and lifestyle

Make sure you drink plenty of water in order to stay well hydrated. Saliva production is directly related to the overall hydration levels within the body.

Chew every mouthful of food thoroughly in order to promote a full and normal secretion of saliva. The saliva 'tastes' the food and sends signals to the lower digestive organs with detailed information concerning what type of juices will be needed and in what quantities to efficiently digest the incoming food.

Citrus fruits such as lemons stimulates saliva flow and also breaks down into bicarbonates which help to reduce excess acidity in the mouth (protecting against bacterial attack) and blood stream generally.

Avoid fried and microwaved foods as dangerous compounds called hetrocyclic amines (which are carcinogenic) are produced when foods are cooked in these ways.

"Fear less, hope more; Eat less, chew more; Whine less, breathe more; Talk less, say more; Love more and all good things will be yours"

Swedish proverb.


Useful herbs

Useful herbs

If you have stones, gravel or calculi blocking a duct you could try drinking 3 cups daily of nettle tea and taking the tinctures of hydrangea root and/or gravel root which will get to work on dissolving mineral (often calcium) stones. Barberry root also has a good reputation for dissolving stones in the salivary glands.

Chewing a small piece of prickly ash bark will stimulate copious saliva flow.

A good congestion relieving tea for blocked or swollen salivary glands or ducts could include nettle, chickweed, violet leaves and plantain leaves. Use equal parts and take 3 cups daily until the swelling is gone.

Blue flag stimulates the flow of saliva and helps to clear congestion in the salivary glands. A few drops of tincture in water up to 3 times daily may help.

Include some echinacea tincture in your daily herbal regimen (1 tsp up to 5 times daily) if a gland is blocked, in order to prevent infection from developing.

The bitter herbs such as gentian root, barberry, dandelion root, turkey rhubarb, wormwood and wild yam root will gently stimulate the secretion of saliva and digestive juices also.

Chamomile tea is a good tea to take to gently increase the flow of saliva.

Red clover tea will also increase the flow of saliva.

Sage tea can be taken to reduce saliva secretions.

"Fear less, hope more; Eat less, chew more; Whine less, breathe more; Talk less, say more; Love more and all good things will be yours"

Swedish proverb.


Natural healing

Natural healing

Oil pulling (swooshing organic sesame, olive or sunflower oil around the mouth for 10 minutes each morning, then brushing the teeth as normal) has been used by people in India for centuries as a way of maintaining good overall oral health and to prevent tooth decay also. It is known to help lower bacterial levels in the mouth when carried out on a daily basis over several weeks. It may well have a positive effect on the health and functioning of the salivary glands too. I know that when I even think about oil pulling, my saliva production gets going.

Limit your mobile phone use (or portable home phones) as the radiation passed into the face/cheek area is suspected of raising the likelihood of parotid tumour formation.

Chewing a natural gum (or even sucking a stone!) will help stimulate saliva production.

"Fear less, hope more; Eat less, chew more; Whine less, breathe more; Talk less, say more; Love more and all good things will be yours"

Swedish proverb.


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