Salivary glands

Topic Completed: 1 September 2015

Minor changes: 13 July 2020

Copyright: 2002-2020,, Inc.

PubMed Search: Salivary glands[TI] anatomy[TIAB]

Sally Tanakchi, M.D.
F. Zahra Aly, M.D., Ph.D.
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Cite this page: Tanakchi S, Aly FZ. Anatomy. website. Accessed October 29th, 2020.
Definition / general
  • Parotid gland:
    • Largest salivary gland (15 - 30 g), 6 x 3 cm
    • It is wrapped around the mandibular ramus, has broad superficial lobe and smaller deeper lobe, with facial nerve usually between both lobes
    • Provides only 25% of the total salivary volume but on stimulation, the parotid secretion rises to 50%
    • Stensen duct (main duct) empties into the oral cavity opposite crown of second maxillary molar
    • 20% have accessory parotid gland and duct, usually overlying the masseter muscle
    • Parotid gland has its own fascia (capsule), which is continuous with superficial layer of deep cervical fascia
    • Contains 3 - 24 lymph nodes (not all with complete structural organization), usually lateral to facial nerve in superficial lobe
    • Blood supply: external carotid artery and its terminal branches
    • Venous return: retromandibular vein
    • Lymphatic drainage: preauricular lymph nodes that drain to the deep cervical chain
    • Nerve supply: mainly autonomic through the glossopharyngeal nerve
    • Vascular bundle (retromandibular vein, external carotid artery, superficial temporal artery and maxillary artery) lies medial to facial nerve

  • Submandibular gland:
    • Divided into superficial and deep lobes, separated by the myelohyoid muscle
    • In submandibular triangle formed by anterior and posterior bellies of digastric muscle and inferior margin of mandible
    • Weighs 50% of parotid gland (7 - 15 g)
    • Provides 60 - 65% of the total salivary volume
    • Wharton duct (submandibular duct) empties into the floor of mouth on both sides of the tongue frenulum at sublingual caruncla
    • Lingual nerve wraps around Wharton duct, CN XII runs inferior and parallel to Wharton duct
    • Has its own capsule, which is continuous with superficial layer of deep cervical fascia
    • No lymph nodes within the capsule but 3 - 6 adjacent lymph nodes in submandibular triangle
    • Blood supply: sublingual and submental arteries
    • Venous return: anterior facial vein
    • Lymphatic drainage: submandibular nodes to upper deep cervical nodes
    • Nerve supply: direct by sympathetic nervous system (facial artery plexus) and indirect by parasympathetic nervous system (chorda tympani)

  • Sublingual gland:
    • Smallest of major salivary glands (2 - 4 g)
    • Lies deep to the floor of oral mucosa between mandible and genioglossus muscle
    • Has no true fascial capsule
    • Has no single dominant duct but is drained by 10 small ducts (ducts of Rivinus)
    • Occasionally, several of more anterior ducts may join to form a common duct (Bartholin duct), which typically empties into Wharton duct
    • Bartholin duct unites with the submandibular duct just prior to its opening into the oral cavity at the sublingual caruncula on both sides of tongue frenulum
    • Blood supply: sublingual and submental arteries
    • Venous return: sublingual vein
    • Lymphatic drainage: submandibular lymph nodes
    • Nerve supply: lingual and chorda tympani nerve (from facial nerve) provides parasympathetic supply

  • Minor salivary glands:
    • Except for the gingiva and anterior hard palate, minor salivary glands (500 - 1000, 1 - 5 mm each) are located throughout the submucosa of the oral cavity
    • More numerous in posterior hard palate
    • Each salivary unit has its own simple duct
    • Most of these minor salivary glands are mucinous with the main exception of Ebner glands, which are serous glands located in the circumvallate papillae of the tongue

Diagrams / tables

AFIP images
Missing Image

Parotid gland has several periparotid (dark outline) and intraparotid
(shaded) lymph nodes that drain portions of the ear, temporal region,
lateral face, eyelids and conjunctiva; they in turn drain into the internal
jugular lymph nodes; submandibular lymph nodes are all extraglandular

Missing Image

Horizontal section through lateral portion of pharynx and mandible at level of mastoid process; parotid
gland is traversed by facial nerve and deep portion of gland narrows and is bounded by posterior of ramus
of mandible, muscles of styloid process and medial pterygoid muscle; right: tumors that arise within deep
portion of gland may expand into lateral pharyngeal space and produce swelling of lateral pharyngeal wall

Missing Image

Lateral view of the head shows the anatomic position and relationship of the parotid
and submandibular glands to the ear, zygomatic arch, mandible and masseter muscle;
parotid gland duct (Stensen duct) crosses the masseter muscle and penetrates the buccal
tissues; lobules of accessory parotid tissue are located along the course of the duct

Missing Image

Medial surface of the mandible and mylohyoid muscle
shows the relationship of the submandibular, sublingual
and parotid glands; submandibular duct (Wharton duct)
runs anteriorly to the anterior floor of the mouth

Radiology images

Images hosted on other servers:
Missing Image Missing Image

Figures 1a and 3a: normal anatomy

Clinical images

AFIP images
Missing Image

Right and left submandibular ducts (arrows)
course anteriomedially in the floor of the
mouth to openings at the lingual carunculae,
which are only a few millimeters apart

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Image 01 Image 02