What Is a Salivary Stone?

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Some conditions occur in the oral cavity that are not necessarily associated with a disease in the body. Salivary stones are one of these conditions, because they can occur with no associated pathology and minimal bacteria present. Here's all you need to know about this type of occurence, including where they are located in the mouth and how dental professionals treat these formations.

About Salivary Stones

A salivary stone occurs when calcium builds up in the duct that leads from the salivary gland to the inside of the mouth where the saliva is released for use, according to the National Health Service (NHS). This process is called sialolithiasis and can block the flow of saliva through the duct when the calcium buildup grows large enough to obstruct the gland.

According to the Annals of Maxillofacial Surgery (AMS), sialolithiasis is the most common disease of the salivary glands, affecting approximately 12 out of 1,000 adults. They are more common in men than women. This condition generally does not cause dry mouth, but it can inhibit the flow of saliva.

Where Are They Located?

Most salivary stones, about 87 percent of cases, occur in the submandibular gland, notes a study published in the European Archives of Oto-Rhino-Laryngology (EAORL). The submandibular gland is found under the chin. Stones may also appear on the parotid and sublingual glands, located in the cheeks and under the tongue, respectively.

How Do They Form?

The AMS notes that the exact cause of salivary stone formation is unclear. It is thought that calcium salts from saliva form a deposit. From there the salts, organic and non-organic compounds accumulate around the deposit. Stones located around the parotid gland may form around already-inflamed cells or a foreign body. Submandibular stones may form around a base made of mucus.

What Are the Risk Factors?

As previously stated, those most at risk for salivary stones include adult males. It is largely unknown why some individuals are more susceptible to salivary stones than others, but scientists speculate that some people simply retain more minerals than others. When these minerals sit stagnant in the salivary glands, they bind to create a stone made mostly of calcium, small amounts of bacteria inside the gland and exfoliated skin cells.

Can Salivary Stones Be Treated?

Sialoliths are often found by patients who notice the bump or discoloration on the floor of their mouth. These bumps are often accompanied by discomfort or swelling from the saliva that is pooling and building up pressure behind them, much like if a rock was caught in a hose.

Treatment is dependent on the size, shape, number, hardness and location of the salivary stone. For smaller stones, a dental professional may recommend the patient drink more water, place a warm compress on the area, or take an anti-inflammatory or over-the-counter pain killer until the salivary stone passes. Another at-home tactic you can try is sucking on a lemon, suggests the NHS. It may stimulate saliva flow. A dentist may also be able to dislodge a small stone by massaging the area. Other stones may pass on their own, according to Cedars-Sinai.

For larger stones, dental professionals may remove them through an endoscopic procedure to open the duct and break down the calcium mass. A surgical opening of the gland may be required to remove the debris, though invasive procedures only occur in 5 to 10 percent of all cases, according to the EAORL.

Decreasing the bacteria that build up in the mouth may be a great defense against salivary stones. Brush twice daily, floss once a day, and use quality dental home care products, such as Colgate® Tartar Protection with Whitening Toothpaste. The unique formula fights cavities and tartar buildup and helps remove stains to whiten teeth.

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