Salivary stones are small stones that form in the glands of the mouth. They can block the flow of saliva and cause pain or discomfort.
The medical term for salivary stones is sialoliths. When they block the salivary glands, this is known as sialolithiasis.
Salivary stones are rarely a cause for concern, and people can often get rid of them at home. However, some stones may require treatment from a doctor.
In this article, we explain what salivary stones are and discuss their symptoms and causes. We also explore home remedies, when to see a doctor, medical treatment, and possible complications.
The salivary glands in the mouth produce a liquid called saliva. Saliva protects the teeth, helps with chewing and swallowing food, and initiates the process of digestion.
The mouth contains hundreds of minor, or small, salivary glands. There are also three pairs of major, or large, salivary glands. These large glands include the:
- parotid glands, which sit below the ears on the inside of the cheeks
- submandibular glands at the bottom of the mouth near the jawline
- sublingual glands, which are underneath the tongue
Salivary stones are small deposits of calcium and other minerals. They can form in the ducts of any type of salivary gland. Larger stones can block the flow of saliva and cause the glands to swell.
According to research from 2012, more than 80 percent of salivary stones form in the submandibular gland, while 6–15 percent occur in the parotid gland, and 2 percent are in the sublingual and minor salivary glands.
Salivary stones do not usually cause symptoms when they are forming, and they can sometimes disappear on their own. The stones can vary in size, but they are usually hard and white.
Larger stones can block the flow of saliva in the gland. This blockage can cause saliva to build up behind the stone, which can lead to pain and swelling.
Common symptoms of blocked salivary glands include:
- a sore or painful lump under the tongue
- pain or swelling below the jaw or ears
- pain that increases when eating
Doctors do not fully understand what causes salivary stones. However, certain factors can increase a person’s risk of getting them.
These risk factors include:
Salivary stones are rarely serious, and a person can often treat them at home.
Home remedies for getting rid of salivary stones include:
- Sucking on citrus fruits or hard candies. Sucking on a wedge of lemon or orange increases the flow of saliva, which can help dislodge the stone. A person can also try sucking on sugar-free gum or hard, sour candies, such as lemon drops.
- Drinking plenty of fluids. Regular fluid intake helps keep the mouth hydrated and can increase saliva flow.
- Gentle massage. Gently massaging the affected area may relieve pain and encourage the stone to pass through the salivary duct. The Sjogren’s Syndrome Foundation have an illustrated guide on how to do this on their website.
- Medications. Some over-the-counter drugs, such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen, can help relieve pain and swelling.
- Sucking on ice cubes. Sucking on something cold, such as an ice cube or ice pop, may also help reduce pain and swelling resulting from salivary stones.
Salivary stones can sometimes cause infections or abscesses, so people who are unable to remove the stones by themselves should see a doctor. If the doctor is unable to remove the stones, they may refer the person to the hospital.
Anyone who has signs of an infection or abscess should see a doctor immediately. A doctor can usually treat an infection with antibiotics.