Updated on February 22, 2024
6 min read

Salivary Gland Stones

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Salivary gland stones, also known as sialolithiasis, are hard mineral deposits that build in the salivary glands in your mouth.1 

They usually look white and lumpy. You may or may not be able to see them inside the gland.

Eighty percent of stones form in your submandibular glands, located just below your jaw.11 However, they can also build up in other glands in the mouth, including the:

  • Parotid glands on the side of your face5
  • Sublingual glands under your tongue on the floor of your mouth5
  • Minor salivary glands in your lips and cheeks, under your tongue, and below your palate5

Developing salivary gland stones in these other glands is not common due to their small size.4  

Wherever salivary duct stones occur, they have the same symptoms and are all treated similarly.  

What are the Symptoms of Salivary Gland Stones?

Some people with salivary gland stones may be asymptomatic.2 However, salivary gland stones can be accompanied by several symptoms:1

  • A hard lump that forms in your mouth
  • Swelling of the gland and surrounding area
  • Dry mouth
  • Pain in the surrounding area
  • Bad breath
  • Pain when inserting or removing a prosthetic

Salivary gland stones can cause a salivary infection known as sialadenitis. Bacteria buildup in the duct or viruses contributes to sialadenitis.6

Sialadenitis can worsen symptoms and cause your salivary glands to stop working properly. If this happens, you may face chronic inflammation of the salivary glands.6

When to See a Doctor

You should see a doctor if your salivary gland stone is not going away on its own within two weeks. 

You should also see a doctor if the stone:8

  • Is so large that it interferes with day-to-day activities like talking, breathing, and/or swallowing
  • Causes pain and swelling
  • Accompanies other severe symptoms, such as significant swelling

While you may be able to remove some salivary gland stones on your own, a doctor can confirm your diagnosis and provide treatment options for removal.

How are Salivary Gland Stones Diagnosed? 

Your doctor will diagnose salivary gland stones by performing a physical exam. They may also order diagnostic tests such as an ultrasound, CT, or MRI.

Your doctor can rule out other possible salivary gland disorders like:

  • Salivary gland infection 
  • Salivary gland tumor
  • Sjögren’s syndrome

A salivary gland infection, a tumor, and Sjögren’s syndrome must be treated differently. It’s important to make sure you actually have a salivary gland stone, not another condition. 

How to Get Rid of Salivary Gland Stones

There are several ways to get rid of salivary gland stones. Some stones require professional medical attention, while others may be able to be removed at home.

How Do You Push a Salivary Gland Stone Out at Home?

You may be able to push a salivary gland stone out using at-home remedies. Here are some tips for treating salivary gland stones:1,7

  • Heat — Apply moist heat to the area.
  • Massage — Gently massage the salivary glands to coax the stone through the duct.
  • Use citrus — Suck on sugar-free lemon drops, lemon wedges, or sour candies to stimulate saliva flow from the salivary ducts.
  • Hydrate — Drink plenty of water to encourage saliva production.
  • Take medication — Take aspirin or over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen to alleviate the swelling and pain.
  • Follow your doctor’s instructions — If you have a salivary duct infection, your doctor will likely prescribe you an antibiotic.

Never try to use a sharp object to remove the stone yourself.7 Poking and prodding your mouth with a sharp instrument can cause injury. It can also cause infection, which could lead to even more oral health issues.

If your stone doesn’t go away after a week or two, contact your doctor for professional treatment.

How Can a Doctor Treat a Salivary Gland Stone?

Your doctor may need to remove a stone in a surgery called sialendoscopy.3

Surgical removal can be done under local anesthesia. It involves a miniature telescope, a micro-endoscope, which is inserted into the salivary gland duct’s natural opening to perform the procedure.10

This micro-endoscope may:10

  • Use wire baskets to remove the salivary gland stones
  • Inflate a narrow salivary duct with balloons
  • Flush out any fluids, stone debris, or protein buildup in the duct
  • Push medication into the duct
  • Have a camera so your doctor can see inside the duct during the procedure

Because this procedure is minimally invasive, recovery is quick. Most sialendoscopy patients go home and resume normal activities within a day.9

Can a Blocked Salivary Gland Heal on Its Own? 

Yes, salivary gland stones may go away on their own. Over time, your body’s natural salivating process can push the stone out without any physical effort, like a kidney stone.

This process can take time, depending on how big the stone is. Small stones may resolve independently within a week or two.

However, not all stones, regardless of size, will come out on their own. It is important to remove salivary gland stones if they do not come out naturally.

What Causes Salivary Gland Stones?

Substances in your saliva, including calcium phosphate and calcium carbonate, can crystalize and form stones.

The formation of salivary gland stones has also been linked to several risk factors:

  • Gum disease
  • Smoking
  • Dehydration
  • Mouth trauma
  • Age (more likely between ages 30 and 60)
  • Being male
  • Head and neck radiotherapy
  • Renal impairment
  • Certain medications like anticholinergics and antisialogogues

The submandibular gland is also extra prone to stones, perhaps because of the long shape of the submandibular duct (or Wharton’s duct).

Whatever the cause, salivary gland stones are typically not dangerous but can lead to discomfort and other complications.

How Common are Salivary Gland Stones?

Salivary gland stones are common. They happen in about 1 in 10,000 to 1 in 30,000 people.2

Salivary gland stones don’t usually come back once they are removed. Some people can get more than one stone at a time. Others may develop stones in the same place at different times.

If you get recurrent salivary gland stones in the same gland, you may have to remove the gland surgically. 

Preventing Salivary Gland Stones

Unfortunately, there is nothing you can do to stop a salivary gland stone from forming. However, there are steps you can take to reduce your risk:

  • Stay hydrated
  • Don’t smoke
  • Practice good oral hygiene to prevent gum disease
  • Take care of your mouth to prevent trauma to the area

While salivary gland stones are not usually serious, other issues can arise from poor oral hygiene. This is why brushing twice a day, flossing daily, and getting routine teeth cleanings twice a year is essential.

Summary

Salivary gland stones are hard mineral deposits that build in the saliva glands in your mouth.1 They’re fairly common and more likely to develop in men, adults between 30 and 60, and smokers.

The symptoms of a salivary duct stone include swollen submandibular glands, dry mouth, pain in the affected area (especially around meal times), and bad breath. A stone may resolve on its own or with at-home remedies such as gentle massage, drinking water, and sucking on lemon drops to increase saliva flow. 

You should see a doctor if your gland stone doesn’t go away within two weeks. They might need to remove the stone surgically, if necessary.

Last updated on February 22, 2024
11 Sources Cited
Last updated on February 22, 2024
All NewMouth content is medically reviewed and fact-checked by a licensed dentist or orthodontist to ensure the information is factual, current, and relevant.

We have strict sourcing guidelines and only cite from current scientific research, such as scholarly articles, dentistry textbooks, government agencies, and medical journals. This also includes information provided by the American Dental Association (ADA), the American Association of Orthodontics (AAO), and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
  1. Salivary Duct Stones.” Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, 2023.
  2. Hammett, J. “Sialolithiasis.” StatPearls [Internet]., U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2021.
  3. Sialendoscopy for Salivary Stones.” UC San Diego Health, 2023.
  4. Moghe, S et al. “Parotid Sialolithiasis.” BMJ Case Reports, BMJ Publishing Group, 2012.
  5. Salivary Glands Anatomy.” Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, 2023.
  6. Salivary Gland Infection (Sialadenitis).” Johns Hopkins Medicine, 2023.
  7. Salivary Gland Stones.” NHS Choices, NHS, 2023.
  8. Salivary Gland Stone.” Penn Medicine, 2023.
  9. Salivary Gland Surgery.” Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, 2023.
  10. Sialendoscopy.” Penn Medicine, 2023.
  11. Singhal, A et al. “Self-Exfoliation of Large Submandibular Stone-Report of Two Cases.” Contemporary Clinical Dentistry, Medknow Publications & Media Pvt Ltd, 2012.
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