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Submandibular Sialadenitis/Sialadenosis Clinical Presentation

  • Author: Adi Yoskovitch, MD, MSc; Chief Editor: Arlen D Meyers, MD, MBA  more...
Updated: May 06, 2016


Submandibular sialadenitis takes several forms. The diagnostic workup of any submandibular enlargement begins with a thorough history. This should include onset, duration of symptoms, recurrence, recent operative history, recent dental work, and thorough drug history, immunization history (specifically measles , mumps , rubella [MMR] vaccine), past medical (specifically autoimmune) history, past surgical history, and history of radiation therapy. Inquire as to associated fever or chills, weight loss, presence of a mass, bilaterality or unilaterality, skin changes, lymphadenopathy, keratitis , shortness of breath, oral discharge, dental pain, or skin discharge.



Physical examination should begin with the gland itself. The gland should be palpated for the presence of calculi. Examine the ductal opening for purulence. Palpation should extend into the floor of mouth as well as the soft tissue of the tongue, cheek, and neck. Lingual papillary atrophy should be looked for, as well as loss of enamel from the tooth surface (the latter may be associated with bulimia ). All of the major salivary glands should be examined for masses, symmetry, and the presence of discharge. The presence of lymphadenopathy should be noted. The eyes should be examined for any presence of interstitial keratitis. A quick cranial nerve examination should be conducted with particular attention to cranial nerves VII and XII. The lungs should be examined and a chest radiograph ordered if suspected pulmonary involvement exists.



Acute sialadenitis

Acute sialadenitis is an acute inflammation of a salivary gland.

Patients typically present with erythema over the area, pain, tenderness upon palpation, and swelling. Frank cellulitis and induration of adjacent soft tissues may be present. Purulent material may be observed being expressed from the Wharton duct, particularly upon milking the gland. Rarely, a cutaneous fistula may occur, with spontaneous drainage of purulent material. The inflammation is secondary to an infectious process.

The most common organism is Staphylococcus aureus. Other bacterial organisms include Streptococcus viridans, Haemophilus influenzae, Streptococcus pyogenes, and Escherichia coli. The infection is often the result of dehydration with overgrowth of the oral flora. The most common causes are postoperative dehydration, radiation therapy, and immunosuppression (eg, diabetes mellitus, organ transplant, chemotherapy, human immunodeficiency virus).

Of note, infection of the submandibular gland is rare in the neonate and prepubescent child. When it does occur, similar pathogens have been identified, including Pseudomonas aeruginosa and group B streptococci. Physical examination, in addition to the symptoms described above, includes failure to thrive and irritability. Progression may occur, involving the contralateral gland. The etiology of this entity is unclear.

Although less common than bacteria, several viruses have been implicated in submandibular sialadenitis. These include the mumps virus, which typically affects the parotid gland but can affect the submandibular gland as well. Other viruses include HIV, coxsackievirus, parainfluenza types I and II, influenza A, and herpes.

Infection of the submandibular gland can result in the formation of a submandibular abscess. In this state, the patient may appear toxic, with features similar to acute submandibular sialadenitis. Spiking fevers are not uncommon. This is a serious condition requiring strict attention because of the possibility that the abscess may spread to involve other deep neck spaces of the neck. Trismus may be indicative of parapharyngeal involvement. Progression to Ludwig angina, a life-threatening infection of the submental and sublingual spaces, although rare, can occur.

Chronic sialadenitis

Chronic sialadenitis, in contrast, is typically less painful and is associated with recurrent enlargement of the gland (often following meals) typically without erythema. The chronic form of the disease is associated with conditions linked to decreased salivary flow, rather than dehydration. These conditions include calculi, salivary stasis, and a change in the fluid and electrolyte composition of the gland.


Salivary calculi (sialolithiasis) relate to the formation and deposition of concretions within the ductal system of the gland.

Eighty percent of all salivary calculi occur in the submandibular gland, with approximately 70% of these demonstrable as radio-opacities on routine plain radiography consisting of intraoral occlusal radiographs.

The calculi vary in size and may be single or multiple. The formation of calculi is associated with chronic sialadenitis, and in particular, the recurrent nature of the problem.

The exact mechanism of stone formation is unclear, but it appears to be related to the following conditions:

  • Salivary stagnation
  • Epithelial injury along the duct resulting in sialolith formation, which acts as a nidus for further stone formatio
  • Precipitation of calcium salts

The stones themselves are typically composed of calcium phosphate or calcium carbonate in association with other salts and organic material such as glycoproteins, desquamated cellular residue, and mucopolysaccharides.

Patients most often present with a colicky postprandial swelling of the gland. The course of the disease is typically relapsing and remitting until a final definitive treatment, usually in the form of surgery, is undertaken.

Autoimmune sialadenitis

Autoimmune diseases, in particular Sjögren syndrome, can be associated with sialadenitis. Although preferentially affecting the parotid gland, the submandibular and minor salivary glands are also affected. The disease, which is associated with keratoconjunctivitis sicca, xerostomia, salivary gland enlargement, and lingual papillary atrophy, is confirmed through biopsy of the minor salivary glands of the lip. Numerous laboratory tests are also used to confirm the diagnosis, such as autoantibodies Sjögren syndrome A (SS-A) and Sjögren syndrome B (SS-B), rheumatoid factor, and antinuclear antibodies.


Sialadenosis refers to nonneoplastic noninflammatory swelling in association with acinar hypertrophy and ductal atrophy.

Etiologies fall into 5 major categories.

  • Nutritional (eg, vitamin deficiency, bulimia)
  • Endocrine (eg, diabetes mellitus, hypothyroidism)
  • Metabolic (eg, obesity, cirrhosis, malabsorption)
  • Inflammatory/autoimmune (eg, Sjögren disease, Heerfordt syndrome)
  • Drug induced (eg, thiourea)

Physical examination shows a nontender swelling that is often bilateral and symmetric but can be unilateral and asymmetric.

Contributor Information and Disclosures

Adi Yoskovitch, MD, MSc Chief, Department of Otolaryngology - Head and Neck Surgery, Fleury Hospital, Canada

Adi Yoskovitch, MD, MSc is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, Canadian Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Specialty Editor Board

Francisco Talavera, PharmD, PhD Adjunct Assistant Professor, University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Pharmacy; Editor-in-Chief, Medscape Drug Reference

Disclosure: Received salary from Medscape for employment. for: Medscape.

Dominique Dorion, MD, MSc, FRCSC, FACS Deputy Dean and Associate Dean of Resources, Professor of Surgery, Division of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, Faculty of Medicine, Université de Sherbrooke, Canada

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Chief Editor

Arlen D Meyers, MD, MBA Professor of Otolaryngology, Dentistry, and Engineering, University of Colorado School of Medicine

Arlen D Meyers, MD, MBA is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, American Head and Neck Society

Disclosure: Serve(d) as a director, officer, partner, employee, advisor, consultant or trustee for: Cerescan;RxRevu;SymbiaAllergySolutions<br/>Received income in an amount equal to or greater than $250 from: Symbia<br/>Received from Allergy Solutions, Inc for board membership; Received honoraria from RxRevu for chief medical editor; Received salary from Medvoy for founder and president; Received consulting fee from Corvectra for senior medical advisor; Received ownership interest from Cerescan for consulting; Received consulting fee from Essiahealth for advisor; Received consulting fee from Carespan for advisor; Received consulting fee from Covidien for consulting.

Additional Contributors

Richard V Smith, MD Director of Clinical Affairs, Associate Professor, Department of Otolaryngology, Division of Head and Neck Surgery, Einstein College of Medicine, Montefiore Medical Center

Richard V Smith, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, American College of Surgeons, American Head and Neck Society, The Triological Society, American Medical Association, American Medical Student Association/Foundation, Medical Society of the District of Columbia, New York Academy of Medicine, Vermont Medical Society

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

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Submandibular calculus.
Sialogram with stenosis secondary to chronic sialadenosis.
Submandibular abscess and associated Ludwig angina.
Submandibular neoplasm.
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