What Are the Salivary Glands?

Salivary glands produce saliva, the liquid in your mouth that begins the process of breaking down food (digestion). Saliva also helps prevent mouth and throat infections through the antibodies and other substances it contains.

The salivary glands are classified as either major or minor salivary glands. The major salivary glands consist of:

  • Parotid glands, the largest salivary glands, which are found on each side of your face, just in front of the ears. Roughly 70 percent of salivary gland tumors start here. Most of these tumors are benign (non-cancerous), but the parotid gland is still where most malignant (cancerous) salivary gland tumors start.

  • Submandibular glands, which are smaller and found under the jaw. They secrete saliva under the tongue. About 10 percent to 20 percent of tumors start in these glands. About half of these tumors are benign.

  • Sublingual glands, which are the smallest, are found under the floor of your mouth and below either side of your tongue. Tumors starting in these glands are rare.

The minor salivary glands are too small to be seen without a microscope. Several hundred of them are located beneath the lining of your lips, tongue, and hard and soft palate, as well as inside your cheeks, nose, sinuses, and larynx (voice box). Tumors in these glands are uncommon but are more often malignant than benign.

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Related Resource

Salivary Diseases Brochure [PDF]