Salivary Gland Stones

erica medical reviewer
Medically Reviewed
by Dr. Erica Anand
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Evidence Based
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11 sources cited
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What are Salivary Gland Stones?

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.

Most stones (80 percent) form in your submandibular salivary glands.11 However, they can also build up in other glands.

These include the:

  • Parotid glands, which are on the side of your face5
  • Sublingual glands, which are under either side of 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. In fact, just six to 15 percent of stones occur in the parotid gland.4 This is largely because the sublingual glands are the smallest of your major salivary glands, making them far less susceptible to stones.

Meanwhile, there are hundreds of minor salivary glands in your mouth and throughout your aerodigestive tract. They are too small to see without a microscope. Salivary gland stones are extremely rare in these glands. Only two percent of stones occur in them.

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

How Common are Salivary Stones?

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

They are most likely to affect people who are 30 to 60 years old. Salivary stones have been associated with aging in some cases.2

Men are more likely than women to get salivary stones. But anyone with salivary glands can develop them.

Salivary gland stones do not 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.

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If you get repeated salivary gland stones in the same gland, you may have to have that gland surgically removed. 

Recovery from salivary gland surgery can last anywhere between a few weeks and a few months.9 

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 factors:

  • Gum disease
  • Smoking
  • Dehydration
  • Mouth trauma
  • Age
  • 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, they are not typically cause for concern. In some cases, the stones can be uncomfortable and lead to infections if they don’t come out.

Salivary Stone Symptoms 

Some people with salivary stones may be asymptomatic.2 However, salivary stones can be accompanied by a number of 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

If you develop an infection, your symptoms can get worse. Salivary gland stones, as well as other salivary gland disorders and blockages of the salivary gland duct, can cause acute infection. A salivary infection is known as sialadenitis.6

Sialadenitis is caused by bacteria or viruses. This is because bacteria can build up in the duct over time.6

Sialadenitis usually occurs in the parotid glands on the side of the face, next to the ears. This kind of infection can also occur in the submandibular salivary glands just under the jaw.6

Acute infections can 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 stone is not going away on its own. You should also see a doctor if the stone is so large that it interferes with day-to-day activities like talking, breathing, and swallowing.8

If the salivary gland stone is causing pain or is accompanied by other severe symptoms, see your doctor.8

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

How are Salivary Stones Diagnosed? 

Salivary gland stones can be easy to self-diagnose. But you should see your doctor for an official diagnosis. 

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Your doctor can rule out other possible problems like:

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

A salivary gland infection, a tumor, and Sjögren’s syndrome all need to be treated differently. It is important to make sure that you actually have a gland stone and not one of these disorders.

How to Get Rid of Salivary Stones

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

Here are some simple steps you can take at home to treat salivary stones:1, 7

  • Apply moist heat to the area and gently massage the salivary glands.
  • Suck on lemon drops, lemon wedges, or tart candies to stimulate saliva production from the salivary ducts.
  • Drink plenty of water to hydrate.
  • Take anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like Ibuprofen or Aspirin to alleviate the swelling and pain.
  • If you have a salivary duct infection, your doctor will likely prescribe you an antibiotic.

If these remedies don’t seem to work over time, an otolaryngologist can perform a minimally invasive procedure to remove the salivary gland stone. This is called sialendoscopy.3

Surgical removal can be done under local anesthesia. During a sialendoscopy, your surgeon will insert a miniature telescope, known as a micro-endoscope, into your salivary gland duct’s natural opening.10

This micro-endoscope does three key jobs:10

  1. It uses wire baskets to remove the salivary gland stones. Or it may use balloons to inflate a narrow salivary duct.
  2. It has an irrigator that flushes out any fluids, stone debris, or protein buildup in the duct. It may also be used to push medication into the duct. 
  3. It has a camera so your doctor can see everything inside the duct throughout the procedure.

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

Do not try to use a sharp object to remove a salivary gland 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.

Can you remove a salivary stone yourself?

Yes, in some cases, you can remove a salivary stone yourself. Applying warm compresses, staying hydrated, and promoting saliva production can all help the stone to come out on its own.

Again, whatever you do, do not try to make an incision to remove the stone yourself. The use of sharp objects can cause trauma to the mouth. After all, local trauma is commonly associated with salivary gland stones.

Can a blocked salivary gland go away on its own? 

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

This process can take time depending on how big the stone is. Salivary gland stones are generally pretty small.

They measure from about one millimeter to less than one centimeter. They are rarely more than a centimeter and a half. On average, they are about six to nine millimeters

It is possible, though rare, to develop a giant salivary gland stone. Anything that measures three and a half centimeters or more is considered giant.

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

Symptoms of a salivary stone will not go away until the stone itself is removed. Leaving it to go away on its own for too long can lead to an infection. Take care of salivary stones as quickly as possible.

Can salivary gland stones be prevented? 

Unfortunately, there is nothing you can do to stop a salivary gland stone from forming.

But 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 anything serious, there are other issues that can arise from poor oral hygiene. This is why it’s essential to brush twice a day, floss daily, and get routine teeth cleanings twice a year.

Resources

The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. “Salivary Duct Stones.” Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, 3 Nov. 2020.

Hammett, Jonathan T. “Sialolithiasis.” StatPearls [Internet]., U.S. National Library of Medicine, 6 Oct. 2021.

Incision-Less Procedure Removes Salivary Stones in Mouth.” UC Health - UC San Diego.

Moghe, Swapnil, et al. “Parotid Sialolithiasis.” BMJ Case Reports, BMJ Publishing Group, 14 Dec. 2012.

Salivary Glands Anatomy.” Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.

Salivary Gland Infection (Sialadenitis).” Johns Hopkins Medicine.

Salivary Gland Stones.” NHS Choices, NHS.

Salivary Gland Stone.” Symptoms and Causes. Penn Medicine.

Salivary Gland Surgery.” Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.

Sialendoscopy.” Penn Medicine.

Singhal, Anita, et al. “Self-Exfoliation of Large Submandibular Stone-Report of Two Cases.” Contemporary Clinical Dentistry, Medknow Publications & Media Pvt Ltd, Sept. 2012.

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