Salivary Stones: Symptoms and Treatment
Published on Wednesday, July 28, 2021
By: J. Randall Jordan, MD
Most everyone has heard of someone who has had a kidney stone, but did you know that there is a less common type of “stone” that occurs in the salivary glands? The salivary glands are glands in and around the mouth that make saliva, commonly called “spit”. Saliva helps us swallow or food and also helps to digest it.
Salivary stones occur at a rate of about 1 in 30,000 people so they are relatively uncommon. They are more common as we age and are very rare in children younger than 12. We don’t know why people get salivary stones, but it appears to be similar to the pearl in the oyster type of phenomenon where a small particle of debris gets into the saliva and the body tries to coat it with calcium deposits. They grow slowly and most people don’t know they have them until they become large enough to block the tube that the saliva flows in, what is termed a “duct”.
Salivary stones most common in the submandibular gland, which sits in the upper neck just under the jaw. They can also occur in the parotid gland around the ear and the sublingual gland below the tongue.
Once the stone becomes large enough, it may block the flow of saliva when you eat, and the gland will swell up and it will hurt. It can become infected and require antibiotics. Occasionally a small stone will come out on its own and will feel like a grain of sand in the mouth. Larger stones will have to be removed, which is where I come in.
Back in 2003 I became interested in what was then a new technique to remove stones without removing the salivary gland involved, which was the standard approach at the time. The new technique involved using a tiny endoscope to visualize the inside of the duct and to grasp the stone with a small basket and remove it. This is called Sialendoscopy. I decided to attend the 1st large course on sialendoscopy in the US which was held in Indianapolis in 2003, and have been practicing this technique ever since then. For more information, and some videos of the procedure, please see our website at: