Blocked salivary glands are the most common problem your saliva glands can experience. Usually blocked by a stone, the gland in the floor of the mouth (submandibular gland) faces this condition the most, followed by the glands on the side of the face (parotid gland), according to the Journal of Medical Research (JMR).
The initial signs are swelling in the area of the gland as the stone starts to impede release of saliva. This inflammation creates some amount of pain, and as you can imagine, the saliva backup itself can produce dry mouth that makes it easier for bacteria to grow. The technical name for this condition is sialolithiasis.
The exact cause of blocked salivary glands is not entirely known, although there are several possibilities associated with it. Because a plug of mucous in the duct of the gland becomes calcified, organic and inorganic materials can accumulate and create the offending stone as a result. Another cause is simply a buildup of bacteria in the duct that starts the process of calcification. The formation of these stones may also be associated with other health issues such as gout and liver disease.
Things You Can Do
Other potential etiologies are more readily in your control: changes in water intake, calcium metabolism and pH levels in the mouth, as well as infections, inflammation, certain medications and chewing tobacco (of which you should look to kick the habit). And in a much smaller group, people suffer from both kidney and salivary stones at the same time.
An exam of the location of the swelling and where it began will help your dentist determine if the problem is indeed a stone. The stone will show up on X-ray because of its calcium content, but a CAT scan may also help with the diagnosis if the condition calls for it. Sometimes a fiber-optic scope can be passed into the duct to exam it more closely.
Treating a blocked salivary gland is dependent on the size of the stone and the degree of swelling. A small stone can be treated quite easily, according to JMR, and with nonsurgical therapy. In the meantime, increase your water intake, massage the area of the stone with your hands and invest in a medication that increases saliva flow over time. Consider using the Colgate® 360® Optic White® Powered Toothbrush to limit back-and-forth motions that aggravate the area. A small stone will eventually break up or pass. A larger stone will sometimes require minor surgery to open up the duct so the stone can be removed and the swelling can drain. With very large stones, however, the gland itself may need to be removed.
If you develop blocked salivary glands, you should see your dentist for an appropriate diagnosis and specialty referral if necessary. Whatever you do during this time, you'll still need to keep your mouth clean.