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Salivary gland stones, also called sialoliths, are glandular deposits made of carbon, calcium phosphate, and other minerals. The stones cause a build up of saliva in the gland, resulting in pain and swelling, which typically worsens at mealtime. The stagnant saliva filling the blocked gland can also result in infection. Salivary gland stones are most prominent in adults and affect men more frequently than women.
Research has not indicated the exact cause of salivary gland stones. However, some scientists have noticed that certain medicines, glandular irritations, and inflammation increase the likelihood of developing the stones. Consequently, individuals who are suffering from ailments such as gout are more prone to salivary gland stones. In addition, people who are elderly or are affected by kidney disease are at risk for the stones. If someone has had radiotherapy in the neck or head area or has suffered another injury to the region, she may be affected by the stones as well.
The primary symptom of salivary gland stones is the pain and swelling in the salivary gland. Typically, the swelling and pain will worsen when the person eats. The pain is the result of a build up of saliva in the gland, behind the stone. If left untreated, blockage in the salivary glands may cause an infection and damage the tissue of the gland.
Usually, a medical doctor or dentist may perform a physical examination of the gland to see if it is blocked. She may actually attempt to extract saliva from the gland manually, by applying pressure to the gland with her finger. If saliva is not released, she may order additional tests. In most cases, salivary gland stones are identified through an x-ray, a computed tomography scan (CT scan), or in some cases an ultrasound may be recommended.
Generally, salivary gland stones will continue to block the gland until they are removed. Removal can be done surgically for deeply embedded stones. Once the stones are removed, the pain will be alleviated. It is not unusual for an infection to be present as well. The infection may be treated with a round of antibiotics.
Since scientists are unsure what causes salivary gland stones, there are few prevention tips. In general, doctors believe that keeping well hydrated may keep stones away. They believe that fluids may prevent the minerals of the body from forming stones, especially in hot or arid climates. As with any medical ailment, a person experience swelling or pain in the salivary glands should consult a doctor. Quick treatment can reduce the likelihood of infection or the need for surgery.