You have probably heard of kidney stones, but salivary stones might be less familiar. While kidney stones form in your kidneys, salivary stones develop in—you guessed it—your salivary glands or their ducts in your mouth.
Shethal Bearelly, MD, an otolaryngologist (ear, nose and throat specialist) at Banner Health in Tucson, AZ, explained more about these relatively uncommon but painful stones.
What does it feel like when you have a salivary stone?
You have salivary glands on each side of your face that produce saliva. Your salivary ducts move that saliva from the glands to your mouth. Once in your mouth, it starts to help your body to digest its food.
If you have a salivary stone, also called sialolithiasis, the stone blocks the path of the saliva so it can’t flow properly. You might notice pain and a swollen gland if you get one. Because you naturally generate more saliva when you need to digest your food, the pain might be worse when you’re eating or drinking. Salivary stones can also lead to infection in your salivary glands if not treated quickly.
What causes salivary stones?
“We actually don’t know what causes them,” Dr. Bearelly said. “But they seem to be more common in people who are suffering from dehydration or people who experience trauma to the inside of their mouth.” There is no known prevention strategy but staying hydrated may make you less likely to develop them.
What should you do if you think you have a salivary stone?
If you have symptoms of a salivary stone, you might feel a bump on the inside of your mouth or cheek or notice a swollen gland. You can try drinking more water and sucking on sour candy, lemon wedges or ice cubes to get more saliva flowing. Sometimes, if a salivary stone is small enough, these methods can get it to pass naturally. You can also massage your swollen glands and apply warm compresses to them if these other methods do not seem to be working.
If these home treatments don’t work, see a health care provider. An ultrasound or CT scan can verify that a salivary stone is what’s causing your symptoms. A doctor can use a tiny tool with a diameter of about a millimeter, called a sialendoscope, to see inside your salivary ducts. If necessary, doctors can also perform a procedure called a sialendoscopy to remove the stone, save the gland and get your saliva flowing again. You may also need treatment with antibiotics if your salivary gland is infected.
If you develop a salivary stone, once it’s treated, it’s unlikely that you’ll form another one. And salivary stones aren’t signs of other, more serious health problems, so you can rest easy knowing it’s most likely treated for good.
The bottom line
Salivary stones are blockages that build up in your salivary glands and can cause pain, especially when you’re eating or drinking. If you experience mouth pain and would like to connect with a health care provider, reach out to Banner for help.