Q:

What is the parotid gland, and what does it do?

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Quick Answer

The parotid gland is a salivary gland, according to WebMD. Humans have a pair of parotid glands located near the mouth and the ears, according to Wikipedia. The parotid glands secrete saliva into the mouth to begin the digestion process.

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Full Answer

Producing saliva, which contains enzymes, is the first step in the digestion of food, says WebMD. It also makes chewing and swallowing food easier, protecting the teeth and gums. The parotid glands secrete saliva through the Stensen ducts near the upper teeth, according to the American Academy of Otolaryngology. The parotid glands produce only about a quarter of a person's saliva. Normally, a person produces about 2 to 4 pints of saliva daily, according to WebMD.

An enzyme called salivary alpha-amylase is also secreted by the parotid gland, states Wikipedia. Salivary alpha-amylase helps to break down starches in the mouth and may play a role in fighting bacteria.

The parotid gland is made up of four surfaces, three borders and two ends, according to Wikipedia. The surfaces are the lateral, superior, anteromedial and posteromedial, and the borders are the anterior, posterior and medial. It also has a superior and inferior end. Many important structures pass through the parotid gland. They include the external carotid, superficial temporal and maxillary arteries, the facial nerve and the retromandibular vein.

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