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I’ve heard that salivary stones are dangerous. What are they and how do I know if I have one?

By: Barbara Goldberg

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Salivary stones can happen at any time, at any age -- they are painful and need immediate dental attention, says Dr. Torin Rutner, an oral surgeon in Westfield, N.J.

They are usually caused by a buildup of calcified salts and mucous, which clog the salivary glands in the inner cheek or on the floor of the mouth under the tongue. At mealtime, when the thought of food causes a rush of saliva to flow into your mouth, the stones act like a boulder in a brook. Pooling saliva in the dammed gland causes painful swelling and risk of infection.

Although salivary stones aren’t common, it helps being aware of what they are, as they can be dangerous if not treated quickly. Stones that are allowed to continue growing can complicate treatment or removal, increasing chances that surgery will cause facial scars and possible nerve damage.  They can even get so big that they block the airway and cause difficulty breathing.

Frequently, doctors will place patients on antibiotics and oral saline rinses to help prevent potential infections caused by the stones. Those patients will also be asked to suck on sour candies that encourage saliva flow to flush out any obstructions. When the stones are very small, the body can pass them on its own. 

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Barbara Goldberg is a freelance writer whose work frequently appears in Oral Care and Health Daily (Australia & New Zealand).

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