What are sialoliths (or salivary stones)?

Sialoliths, also known as salivary stones or salivary gland stones, are calcified deposits that form within the salivary glands or their ducts. The salivary glands produce saliva, which helps in the process of digestion by moistening food and aiding in swallowing.

Sialoliths typically develop when there is a buildup of minerals, such as calcium, in the saliva. These minerals can accumulate and form a stone-like structure within the ducts or glands. The exact cause of sialolith formation is not fully understood, but it is believed to be a result of various factors, including decreased salivary flow, changes in saliva composition, or blockage of the salivary ducts.

The most commonly affected salivary gland is the submandibular gland, which is located under the jaw. However, sialoliths can also occur in the parotid gland (located in front of the ears) or the sublingual gland (located under the tongue).

When a sialolith grows in size, it can obstruct the flow of saliva from the affected gland, leading to symptoms such as pain, swelling, and tenderness in the affected area. The blockage may cause the affected gland to become enlarged and may trigger episodes of swelling and inflammation known as sialadenitis. In severe cases, sialoliths can cause infection and abscess formation.

Treatment for sialoliths often involves techniques to remove the stone and restore normal salivary flow. This can be done through non-surgical methods such as warm compresses, massage, or sialagogues (substances that increase salivary flow), which may help to dislodge small stones. For larger or persistent stones, minimally invasive procedures, such as sialendoscopy or extracorporeal shock wave lithotripsy (ESWL), may be used to break up or remove the stone. In rare cases, surgical intervention may be required to remove the stone or affected salivary gland.