Introducing: Ask a Doctor
At UTHSC ENT, we understand that patients need clear, helpful answers to their questions. We also know that a flood of new information can be overwhelming.
That’s why we’ve started Ask a Doctor: an ongoing series of posts that tackle Frequently Asked Questions about common issues. We hope these articles give you a better understanding of your situation and an easy path to treatment.
Today, we’re discussing salivary stones:
Prepared by: Caleb Berta UTHS Medical Student
Reviewed by: Dr. M. Boyd Gillespie, MD, MSc, FACS
What are salivary stones?
Salivary stones are small white stones that form in the salivary glands that connect to your mouth and can block the flow of saliva. The stones can grow to the size of a pea and are generally found below your tongue in one of the glands supplying saliva to your mouth.
Symptoms and prevention
Symptoms of the stones include: swelling (which is usually worse when eating), pain, and potentially infection with drainage of pus into the mouth.
Prevention can be tricky, because the cause of these stones is somewhat unknown. However, risk factors include dry mouth and dehydration, so preventing these things can help with preventing the stone formation.
Cigarette smoking or drinking too many caffeinated beverages can cause dry mouth and contribute to the formation of salivary stones.
Are there at-home treatments for salivary stones?
Initial treatment of stones can include applying moist heat and gently massaging the glands. Lemon drops or other tart candies can help stimulate salivation and ibuprofen or other anti-inflammatories can help relieve pain.
When should I see my doctor?
See your doctor when you begin to feel discomfort or start feeling pain that could be a sign of infection. Signs of infection include swelling, pain, redness of the skin, pus-like drainage, and fever.
How does my doctor diagnose and treat salivary stones?
First, your doctor might observe the salivary stones through a physical exam. Additionally, they might use advanced imaging such as an ultrasound, MRI, or CT scan.
Treatment is usually needed to remove these stones; patients should not remove them on their own as this can cause damage or scarring. Your physician can remove the stones by using a small blunt instrument, or you can have a procedure to remove them in the hospital.
Generally, the procedure to remove them is a sialendoscopy, which is a minimally invasive procedure. During this procedure, the surgeon passes a small scope into the salivary duct to visualize and remove the stone. Recovery is rapid and does not require stitches or cause pain.
In more serious cases, the removal of a salivary gland might be necessary. While the chance of risk with the salivary gland surgery is small, risks include bleeding, infection, scarring, or nerve damage.