Salivary glands

Topic Completed: 1 September 2015

Minor changes: 6 December 2020

Copyright: 2002-2021,, 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 January 23rd, 2021.
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

  • Parotid gland primordia (anlage) arises in weeks 5 - 6 from ectoderm, followed by submandibular gland primordia in week 6 from endoderm, then sublingual gland primordia in weeks 7 - 8 from endoderm
  • Intraoral minor salivary glands (including von Ebner gland) develop during the third month from endoderm
  • Primordia develop from primitive oral cavity (stomodeum) as buds, which proliferate as cords, form terminal bulbs, develop clefts and further proliferate as branches from original cord; then the process is repeated
  • Lumens form in epithelial cords and progress to terminal bulbs; cells differentiate into various ducts and acini
  • Connective tissue diminishes with maturation
  • Parotid buds may penetrate intraparotid lymph nodes; rare with submandibular or sublingual structures
  • Secretion by the parotid glands via the parotid duct begins at about 18 weeks of gestation, while secretion by the submandibular gland begins at 16 weeks of gestation
Diagrams / tables

AFIP images
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Drawing of
the oral cavity
of a 9 week
old embryo

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Parotid gland lymph nodes

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Horizontal section
through lateral
portion of pharynx

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Lateral view of
the head shows
anatomic position

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Medial surface
of the mandible
and mylohyoid

Radiology images

Images hosted on other servers:
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Figures 1a and 3a: normal anatomy

Clinical images

AFIP images
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Right and left submandibular ducts

Microscopic (histologic) images

AFIP images
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epithelial cord
of the developing
parotid gland

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Moderately cellular,
fibrous stroma
in a 25 week old fetus

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At high magnification,
the terminal tubules
are a double layer
of epithelial cells

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