Your parotid glands are major salivary glands. They’re located just beneath and in front of each ear. Each of your parotid glands produce about 10% of the total saliva in your mouth — even more when you eat. Sometimes, your parotid gland can become infected or swollen. Treatments may include antibiotics, warm compresses and massage.
Like your other major salivary glands (submandibular and sublingual), your parotid glands produce saliva (spit) to keep your mouth lubricated, and to aid in chewing and digestion.
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Your parotid glands produce a specific type of saliva that’s thin and watery. They also release amylase — a protein that helps jumpstart starch digestion.
Saliva plays a key role in oral and overall health. For instance, the saliva produced by your parotid glands:
Your parotid salivary glands produce about 10% of the saliva that’s in your mouth. When you eat, your parotid glands contribute even more saliva — approximately 25%.
Your parotid glands are just below and in front of each ear. You also have two other pairs of major salivary glands — sublingual (under your tongue) and submandibular (under your jaw).
Your parotid gland connects to a tube (called Stensen’s duct) that carries saliva to your mouth, releasing near your upper molar teeth. Your sublingual and submandibular glands connect to a tube (called Wharton’s duct) that transports saliva to the floor of your mouth (under your tongue).
Your parotid gland resembles an upside-down pyramid. It starts out wider near the top and tapers off at the bottom, near your jawline.
Lymph nodes cover the outer part of your parotid gland. The inner grooved surface rests against your jaw and masseter muscle (the muscle that connects your lower jaw to your cheekbone).
Your facial nerve (cranial nerve VII) divides your parotid gland into two lobes: the superficial lobe and the deep lobe.
The gland itself is yellowish and is covered with pink connective tissue.
Your parotid gland is the largest salivary gland, measuring about 5.8 centimeters long and 3.4 centimeters across.
The average parotid salivary gland weighs 14.28 grams.
Several health conditions can cause pain and parotid gland swelling, including:
Most parotid gland conditions cause similar symptoms, including:
Like most health conditions, a proper diagnosis begins with a physical examination. Your healthcare provider will feel around your parotid glands to see if you’re having any pain or swelling.
If they suspect an issue with your parotid glands, they may request additional tests, including:
Treatment depends on the underlying cause of your parotid gland condition. For example, if a bacterial infection causes your parotid gland to swell, then your healthcare provider will likely prescribe antibiotics.
If stones are blocking your parotid gland, your healthcare provider may recommend facial massage or sucking on lemon candy to encourage more saliva production. If this doesn’t work, they may try different medications to induce salivary flow. When nonsurgical treatments don’t help, your healthcare provider may recommend surgery to remove the stones.
Parotid gland tumors usually require parotidectomy — surgery to remove part or all of your parotid gland.
People with parotid gland cancer may need surgery to remove the gland and/or a combination of chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
If your parotid gland is swollen, you may be able to fix the issue by sucking on sour candy. This encourages more saliva flow, and may clear out any blockages. But if the issue continues, schedule an appointment with your healthcare provider. They can determine what’s causing parotid gland swelling and design an appropriate treatment plan.
Keeping your parotid gland healthy involves making sure you have enough saliva to keep your mouth lubricated. Here are some tips to help:
Keep in mind, you can’t always prevent parotid gland issues from developing. But the guidelines above can help reduce your risk.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Your parotid glands play a major role in oral health and digestion. If you develop parotid gland swelling or infection, it’s important to call your healthcare provider. In many cases, a swollen parotid gland is easily treated with nonsurgical methods. But in some cases, surgical intervention may be necessary. If you have questions or concerns about your parotid gland, talk to your healthcare provider.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 06/08/2022.
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