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The Sublingual Papilla and Your Salivary Structures

It's important to understand how saliva and your salivary structures work to maintain good oral habits and health. If you've ever been confused about words like "sublingual papilla" or "Wharton's duct," you are not alone. Here's what you need to know about your sublingual papilla, salivary structures, and salivary stones.

What Is Your Sublingual Papilla?

Your sublingual papilla is a small protruding piece of tissue at the base of the tongue. The term "sublingual" refers to the area beneath the tongue, making its location a little easier to remember. This small piece of tissue also serves as a marker for the place where saliva empties into your mouth via your Wharton's duct (also called the submandibular duct).

Understanding Your Salivary Structures

Salivary glands create saliva that moistens your mouth to help you chew, speak, and digest. Saliva also helps clean bacteria off your teeth and protect them from decay. The salivary glands excrete saliva through tubes in your mouth called ducts, specifically your Wharton's duct.

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. Your other major salivary glands include the parotid and submandibular glands. Together, they release the majority of your saliva. However, there are hundreds of tiny salivary glands throughout the lining of your mouth and throat.

What Is Sialolithiasis (Salivary Stones)?

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. This crystallization can cause swelling and pain, especially when the surge of saliva released when you eat becomes partially blocked.

The Merck Manual notes that 80 percent of salivary stones occur in Wharton's duct and the connecting submandibular glands. However, they can be found in other glands, too. Wharton's duct is particularly long and narrow, allowing for saliva buildup.

How Do You Treat Salivary Stones?

Your dental professional will sometimes detect and diagnose salivary stones during a routine dental examination, especially if you haven't experienced noticeable symptoms that have prompted you 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. A sialoendoscopy, a minimally invasive procedure using 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.

Luckily, there are measures you can take at home to help dislodge a salivary stone. Try drinking lots of water and using sugar-free lozenges to help stimulate saliva flow and loosen the stone from the duct. As always, maintaining a good oral care routine with twice-daily brushing and once-daily interdental cleaning will help prevent the formation of salivary stones. It's also best to avoid smoking or using other tobacco products.

Understanding your mouth and the ways saliva circulates through it is essential to your overall oral health. Now that you know a bit more about your sublingual papilla and other salivary strictures, you are more prepared to take action a problem occurs. 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 dental professional. You may have a simple salivary stone, which can be easily removed.

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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