If you’ve never heard of salivary gland stones before, you’re not alone. This uncommon condition, also called sialolithiasis, usually affects adults between the ages of 30 and 60. Men are more likely to have this problem, although scientists don’t quite know why that is.

In fact, science can’t tell us much about what causes salivary gland stones because they aren’t sure. However, there are several risk factors frequently associated with this disorder. These factors include:

  • Dehydration
  • Smoking
  • Poor diet
  • Certain medications
  • Gum disease
  • Trauma to the mouth


What are Salivary Glands?


A salivary gland, or duct, is where your saliva is released into the mouth. Saliva is crucial to excellent oral health, so your salivary glands must be free of obstructions. There are two types of salivary glands: major and minor.

Minor salivary glands are tiny and located throughout your mouth and aerodigestive tract.  The minor glands are so small, they can’t even be seen without a microscope. These glands are mostly found in the roof of your mouth, your tongue, and the lining of your lips. Minor salivary glands are also inside your nose, sinuses, cheeks, and voice box.

Major salivary glands are much larger, and they’re the most important creator and conveyor of saliva. The major glands are found in front of your ears and below your jaw. They’re also under your tongue on the floor of your mouth.

Salivary glands are everywhere because saliva is a key component of good dental hygiene.


Why is Saliva so Important?


Saliva contributes to the self-cleaning of your mouth to prevent tooth decay and gum disease. Even if drool seems yucky, it’s a vital part of your oral health. Saliva helps to remove leftovers from the mouth that serve as food for oral bacteria. At the same time, it dilutes acid that’s produced by bacteria and acidic foods. Saliva also contains mineral components that restore some of the necessary minerals to your tooth enamel.

If you aren’t producing enough saliva, bacterial deposits can have an increased effect on teeth and gums and promote the development of tooth decay and inflammation.

Since saliva production decreases as you age life, dry mouth often occurs in older people. It contributes to bad breath and makes swallowing a problematic chore. Drugs, smoking, and diabetes can also contribute to a lack of saliva.


What are Salivary Gland Stones?


Now that you know why saliva is so vital to your oral health, you can better understand why a salivary duct obstruction is harmful.

Salivary gland stones occur when hardened mineral deposits form and eventually obstruct the salivary gland altogether. They can start small and may remain small. However, some stones continue growing, hindering your saliva ducts from performing correctly.


Salivary Gland Stones Symptoms


The stones themselves don’t cause any symptoms. Still, if they do grow big enough to block the salivary gland, you may notice pain and swelling. The discomfort may be made worse by eating or anticipation of food. The pain might get progressively worse over a few weeks, and inflammation or infection is soon to follow.


Salivary Gland Stones Treatment


The dentist may find salivary gland stones during your routine cleaning and checkup. The salivary gland stones might show up on an x-ray, or on other imaging diagnostic tests used to rule out other problems.

Treatment includes:

  • Warm moist compress
  • Gentle massage
  • Staying hydrated
  • Sucking on tart candies to stimulate saliva production

The dentist may recommend nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like Ibuprofen for pain and swelling.

If these steps don’t correct the condition, surgery is the next step. Performing a minimally invasive procedure called sialendoscopy, an otolaryngologist uses local anesthesia to eliminate the stone using small instruments that remove stones or stone fragments deep within the gland.

Fortunately, you can avoid salivary gland stones by making lifestyle changes. That includes:

  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Quitting tobacco products
  • Eating a balanced diet
  • Staying hydrated
  • Protecting the mouth from trauma (during sports, for example)
  • Seeing the specialists at Danville Family Dentistry for regular cleanings and checkups

If you are experiencing pain or swelling, don’t delay. Call us today at 317-745-4400 to make an appointment with an expert.

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Disclaimer: The information included in this article is for educational purposes only. It should not be used as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.