Salivary glands
Normal Anatomy

Author: Sally Tanakchi, M.B.Ch.B. (see Authors page)
Editor: F. Zahra Aly, M.D., Ph.D.

Revised: 19 October 2015, last major update September 2015

Copyright: (c) 2002-2015,, Inc.

PubMed Search: salivary glands [title] anatomy
Definition / General
  • Parotid gland:
    • Largest salivary gland (15-30g), 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's 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: Retro-mandibular vein
    • Lymphatic drainage: Pre-auricular lymph nodes that drain to the deep cervical chain
    • Nerve supply: mainly autonomic through the glossopharyngeal nerve
    • Vascular bundle (retro-mandibular 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 (7-15g)
    • Provides 60-65% of the total salivary volume
    • Wharton's duct (submandibular duct) empties into the floor of mouth on both sides of the tongue frenulum at sublingual caruncla
    • Lingual nerve wraps around Wharton's duct, CN XII runs inferior and parallel to Wharton's 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 (2-4g)
    • 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’s 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, 1-5mm 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 Ebners glands, which are serous glands located in the circumvallate papillae of the tongue

Clinical Images
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    Figures 1a and 3a: normal anatomy

  • AFIP Figure 1-7:
    • The 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

  • AFIP Figure 1-6:
    • The 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
    • The submandibular lymph nodes are all extraglandular

  • AFIP Figure 1-5:
    • This illustration represents a horizontal section through the lateral portion of the pharynx and mandible at the level of the mastoid process
    • The parotid gland is traversed by the facial nerve, and the deep portion of the gland narrows and is bounded by the posterior of the ramus of the mandible, muscles of the styloid process and medial pterygoid muscle
    • Right: Tumors that arise within the deep portion of the gland may expand into the lateral pharyngeal space and produce swelling of the lateral pharyngeal wall

  • AFIP Figure 1-4:
    • This 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
    • The parotid gland duct (Stensen's duct) crosses the masseter muscle and penetrates the buccal tissues
    • Lobules of accessory parotid tissue are located along the course of the duct

  • AFIP Figure 1-7:
    • This illustration of the medial surface of the mandible and mylohyoid muscle shows the relationship of the submandibular, sublingual and parotid glands
    • The submandibular duct (Wharton's duct) runs anteriorly to the anterior floor of the mouth