The salivary glands

The salivary glands are divided into major salivary glands and minor salivary glands.

Diagram of the salivary glands and ducts
Diagram of the salivary glands and ducts

Minor salivary glands

There are 750 to 1000 minor salivary glands. They are very small. Most of them are too small to be seen with the naked eye.

About half of all minor salivary glands are on the hard palate in the roof of the mouth. Minor salivary glands are also found in the lips, cheeks, nose, sinuses around the nose (called paranasal sinuses), nasopharynx, larynx and trachea.


Salivary glands play an important role in digestion because they make saliva. Saliva helps moisten food so we can swallow it more easily. It also has an enzyme called amylase that makes it easier for the stomach to break down starches in food.

Saliva also has an important role in our oral health. It prevents infections in the mouth and throat. It also helps to maintain healthy teeth and prevent bad breath. Saliva also moistens the oral cavity, which helps with swallowing and speaking.

Expert review and references

  • American Cancer Society. Salivary Gland Cancer. American Cancer Society; 2014:
  • Mendenhall WM, Werning JW and Pfister DG . Treatment of head and neck cancer. DeVita VT Jr, Lawrence TS, & Rosenberg SA. Cancer: Principles & Practice of Oncology. 9th ed. Philadelphia: Wolters Kluwer Health/Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2011: 72:729-80.
  • Terhaard CHJ . Salivary gland cancer. Halperin EC, Wazer DE, Perez CA et al. Perez and Brady's Principles and Practice of Radiation Oncology. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2013.