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Sialolithiasis: What You Need to Know About Salivary Stones

Are you experiencing pain in your face, neck, or mouth? If that pain worsens right before or during meals, you might have sialolithiasis. Thankfully, sialolithiasis treatment is usually successful and can sometimes be resolved at home. Learn more about this condition, what causes it, and how to treat it.

What Is Sialolithiasis?

Sialoliths, more commonly known as salivary stones, are hardened mineral deposits in the salivary glands. Your salivary glands transport a liquid filled with minerals to your mouth. This saliva aids in digestion and lowers the acid levels in your mouth. Salivary stones are small deposits of calcium and other minerals that form in the ducts of the salivary gland. If these hardened deposits grow large enough, they can block the saliva flow and cause the glands to swell.

Of your three major salivary glands, 80 percent of stones form in your submandibular glands, which are located along your jawline. They can also form in your parotid and sublingual glands, as well, though it's uncommon. The size of salivary stones can vary from a few millimeters up to two centimeters, and they usually appear white or yellow in color.

What Are the Signs of Salivary Stones?

The main sign of a salivary stone includes pain in the face, neck, or mouth that increases around meals. Your salivary ducts secrete more saliva during these times to aid in digestion, and a salivary stone can block the flow and cause pain and swelling. Other secondary signs of sialolithiasis include:

  • Dry mouth
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Difficulty opening your mouth
  • Redness in the area of the duct
  • Bad taste in your mouth
  • Fever (if the duct becomes infected)

What Causes Salivary Stones?

Although the cause of salivary stones is unknown, a few factors can increase your risk of getting one. These factors include:

  • Dehydration, which causes saliva to be more concentrated
  • Medications like blood pressure drugs and antihistamines that cause dry mouth
  • Poor diet or not eating enough food, which decreases saliva production
  • Chronic gum disease

What Is Sialolithiasis Treatment?

Your dentist or dental hygienist can sweep their fingers along your head and neck to detect swellings and other abnormalities like salivary stones. If your dental professional suspects you have sialolithiasis, they might prescribe imaging to provide a more definitive diagnosis. This can include X-rays, ultrasound, or computed tomography (CT) scan of the face and neck area.

At-Home Treatment for Salivary Stones

For smaller stones, your dentist might recommend some at-home remedies. These include:

  • Sucking on citrus fruits or sugar-free sour candies to increase saliva flow and dislodge the stone.
  • Drinking more fluids to fight dehydration and encourage saliva flow.
  • Taking over-the-counter medications such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen to reduce pain and swelling.
  • Sucking on a popsicle or ice cube to relieve pain and swelling.

Professional Treatment for Salivary Stones

If you are unable to remove the stone yourself, see your dental professional immediately. Salivary stones can sometimes cause infections or abscesses if not addressed. Your treatment will depend on the size and location of the stone:

  • For smaller stones, the dental professional might gently massage or push the stone out of the duct.
  • For larger stones that are easily seen, the dental professional might use a local anesthetic and make a tiny incision over the stone to remove it.
  • For larger stones that are difficult to see, you might require a relatively new surgery called a saliendoscopy. In this treatment, a surgeon inserts a tiny lighted scope inside the duct to locate the stone and then uses microinstruments to remove it.
  • In rare cases, a patient with recurrent salivary stones or severe damage to the salivary gland might need to have the gland completely removed.

A sialolithiasis diagnosis usually results in a positive outcome. While there is no way to prevent salivary stones completely, you can decrease your chances by staying hydrated and practicing proper oral care. If you think you might have a salivary stone, contact your dentist immediately for an exam and treatment.

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This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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