Your sublingual papilla is a small protruding piece of tissue at the base of the tongue, according to Scott-Brown's Otorhinolaryngology and Head and Neck Surgery. The term "sublingual" refers to the area beneath the tongue, which makes its location a little easier to remember. This small piece of tissue also serves as a marker for the area where saliva — produced by the salivary glands — empties into your mouth via Wharton's duct (also called the submandibular duct).
The Sublingual Papilla And Your Salivary Structures
Salivary glands create saliva that moistens your mouth to aid in chewing, speaking and the digestive process. Saliva also helps clean bacteria off of your teeth and protect them from decay, according to Cedars-Sinai. The salivary glands excrete saliva through tubes in your mouth called ducts, and Wharton's duct is the duct located near the sublingual papilla.
The sublingual glands are responsible for depositing about 5 percent of your saliva. These glands are located on the floor of the mouth underneath the sublingual folds on either side of the sublingual papilla, according to Scott-Brown's Otorhinolaryngology and Head and Neck Surgery. Your other major salivary glands include the parotid and submandibular glands, and together they release the majority of your saliva, explains Cedars-Sinai. In addition, hundreds of tiny salivary glands are found throughout the lining of your mouth and throat.
A common problem affecting the sublingual area on the floor of your mouth is sialolithiasis. This condition refers to salivary stones that form when substances in your saliva harden into a crystallized structure, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). This can cause swelling and pain, especially when the normal surge of saliva that is released when you eat becomes partially blocked.
Merck Manuals notes that 80 percent of salivary stones occur in Wharton's duct and the connecting submandibular glands, although they can be found in other glands, too. Wharton's duct is particularly long and narrow, allowing for saliva buildup, according to an article published in the Brazilian Annals of Dermatology.
A dentist will sometimes detect and diagnose salivary stones during a routine dental examination, especially if a patient hasn't experienced noticeable symptoms to prompt them to see a dentist or physician sooner. A dentist will usually detect the presence of a stone by touch or visual inspection, especially if it is apparent near the sublingual papilla.
Treatment involves removing the salivary stone, but the exact procedure depends on the size, location and number of stones. Sometimes, a dental professional can push the stone out by massaging the area with heat, according to the NIH. Sialoendoscopy, the use of cameras and small instruments to diagnose and retrieve stones, may also be helpful. Shock wave treatments are also an option to break larger stones into small pieces. More complicated cases, such as if the stones become infected or recur, may require surgery. In some cases, a small incision in the papilla — also known as a papillotomy — may help your medical professional remove the stone, explains Gland-Preserving Salivary Surgery.
Luckily, there are measures you can take at home to help dislodge a stone, such as drinking lots of water and using sugar-free lemon lozenges to help stimulate saliva flow, as the NIH notes. Of course, it also helps to brush your teeth twice a day, floss once a day and avoid smoking or using other tobacco products.
If you notice anything unusual on the floor of your mouth near your sublingual papilla, or you experience pain or swelling when eating, call your dentist. You may just have a simple salivary stone that needs to be removed.