|Release of Salivary Stones
|What are (Submandibular / Sub-lingual) Salivary Gland Stones?
Sialolithiasis (Salivary Gland Stones) is the most common disease of the salivary glands. It is affects 12 in 1000 of
the adult population; men are affected twice as much as women; children are rarely affected.
Sialolithiasis accounts for more than 50% of diseases of the large salivary glands and is thus the most common
cause of acute and chronic salivary gland infections. More than 80% occur in the submandibular gland or its duct,
6% in the parotid gland and 2% in the sublingual gland or minor salivary glands.
|Photos of Sialoliths removed from the Submandibular Duct
Clinical Examination, Investigations & Diagnosis
Careful history and examination are important in the diagnosis of sialolithiasis (in fact, in all aspects of medicine &
dentistry). Pain and swelling of the concerned gland at meal-times and in response to other salivary stimuli are
especially important. Complete obstruction of the salivary duct by a salivary stone causes constant pain and
swelling; pus may be seen draining from the duct and signs of systemic infection may be present.
Bi-manual palpation of the floor of the mouth, in a posterior (back) to anterior (front) direction, reveals a salivary
stone in a large number of cases of submandibular calculi formation. Bi-manual palpation of the gland itself can be
useful, as a uniformly firm and hard gland suggests a hypo-functional (under-performing) or non-functional gland.
Imaging studies are very useful for diagnosing sialolithiasis. Occlusal radiographs (X-rays of the floor of the mouth)
are useful in showing (radio-opaque) stones.
Sialography is useful in patients showing signs of sialadenitis related to (radio-lucent) stones or deep
submandibular / parotid stones. Sialography is, however, contra-indicated in acute infection or in marked contrast
allergy (ie an allergy to the contrast media pumped into the duct and gland).
What does the treatment involve?
There are various methods available for the management of salivary stones, depending on the gland affected and
Patients presenting with sialolithiasis may benefit from a trial of conservative management especially if the stone is
The patient must be well hydrated (that is, drink frequently) and must apply moist warm heat and massage the
involved salivary gland, while sialogogues are used to promote saliva production and flush the stone out of the duct.
With gland swelling and sialolithiasis, infection should be assumed and antibiotics prescribed. Most stones will
respond to such a regimen, combined with simple sialolithotomy when required.
If the stone is sufficiently forward in the salivary duct, it can be ‘milked’ and manipulated through the duct opening;
this can be done with the aid of lacrimal probes and dilators to open the duct.
Once open, the stone can be identified, ‘milked’ forward, grasped and removed. The gland is then ‘milked’ to remove
any other debris in the more posterior (back) portion of the duct.
Almost half of the submandibular calculi lie in the distal third of the duct and are amenable to simple surgical release
through an incision (cut) directly onto the stone. In this way more posterior stones, 1 – 2 cm from the salivary duct
punctum, can be removed by cutting directly onto the stone in the longitudinal axis of the duct. Care is taken as the
lingual nerve lies deep to the duct, but in close association with the submandibular duct posteriorly. Subsequently,
the stone can be grasped and removed. No closure is done leaving the duct open for drainage.
If the submandibular gland has been damaged by recurrent infection and fibrosis or calculi have formed within the
gland, it may require removal.
Alternative methods of treatment have emerged such as the use of Extracorporeal Shock Wave Lithotripsy (ESWL)
and more recently the use of Endoscopic Intracorporeal Shockwave Lithotripsy (EISWL), in which shockwaves are
delivered directly to the surface of the stone lodged within the duct without damaging adjacent tissue (piezoelectric
principle). Both extra and intra-corporeal lithotripsy are gaining increasing importance in the treatment of salivary
Submandibular gland removal may be indicated following failure of lithotripsy or if the size of an intra-glandular stone
is > 12 mm as the success of lithotripsy may be < 20% in such cases.
In the case of small calculi, the treatment of choice should be medical, instead of surgical. The patient can be
administered natural sialogogues such as small slices of lemon or sialogogue medication (such as pilocarpine).
Surgical removal of the calculus (or even of the whole gland) has traditionally been used as an alternative to medical
therapy, whenever the latter was not possible or when it proved ineffective.
How long will the operation take?
It can be very quick (a few minutes). If the stone is big or difficult to access, it can take that much longer.
What can I expect after the operation?
It is unlikely to be very sore but regular painkillers will be arranged for you. There is relatively little swelling following
salivary stone removal.
Do I need any time off work?
Possibly only for the day of the operation.
Will I have a scar?
What are the possible problems?
Bleeding from the wound is unlikely to be a problem. If it occurs it usually does so within the first 12 hours of surgery
which is why you need to stay in hospital overnight.
Infection is uncommon but if your surgeon thinks it may happen to you a short course of antibiotics will be arranged.
What are the possible complications?
|Last Updated 5th May 2019
There are potential complications with any operation. Fortunately with this type of surgery complications are rare
and may not happen to you.
The following list of warnings regarding sialolith release is neither exhaustive nor is it predictive. The most
pertinent warnings have been included here.
Pain. As it is a surgical procedure, there will be soreness at the operation site. This can last for several days.
Painkillers such as Ibuprofen, Paracetamol, Solpadeine or Nurofen Plus are very effective. Obviously, the painkiller
you use is dependent on your medical history and the ease with which the stone was released.
Swelling. There will be swelling afterwards though it will not be obvious from the outside. Sucking an ice-cube at the
op site will help to decrease the swelling. Avoidance in the first few hours post-op of alcohol, exercise or hot foods /
drinks will decrease the degree of swelling that can develop.
Sutures. The op site will often be closed with stitches. These dissolve and ‘fall out’ within 10 – 14 days.
Limitation of Mouth Opening. Often the chewing muscles and the jaw joints are sore after the op so that mouth
opening can be limited for the next few days.
Scarring / Lumpiness at Op Site. Any cut to soft tissues produces a scar. Initially, after the release of a stone, a
scar may be produced. This softens and disappears (i.e. improves) with time. The scarring can also be dependent
on the size of the stone, how long it had been present for, how many infections had been associated with it and the
individuals’ tendency to scarring.
Floor of Mouth Complications. When stitching up the operation site, sometimes, the stitches can tie off the
Submandibular Duct. If this happens, saliva produced by the Submandibular Gland can not escape into the mouth
and back pressure into the gland happens. This causes the Submandibular Gland to swell and become painful. The
floor of the mouth may even rise.
If any of this happens, you will need to contact the OMFS department or A&E as soon as possible. Because of the
potential of this to happen, stitches are sometimes not used or if used, are very loose.
Repeat Op. Sometimes not all of the stone is removed or there were more stones than originally thought (and not
obvious on the X-ray) or the conditions that created the salivary stone in the first place haven’t changed and a new
stone has formed; hence, the need to repeat the op.
Numbness of the Tongue. The lingual nerve which supplies feeling to the side of the tongue can become bruised as a
result of surgery. If this occurs you will experience a tingly or numb feeling in the tongue, similar to the sensation
after having an injection at the dentist. This numbness may take several months to disappear and in a minority of
patients may last for ever.
Damage to the Submandibular Duct. The submandibular duct is the name of the tube which carries saliva from the
submandibular gland into the mouth. The duct runs close to the sublingual gland before opening on the inside of the
mouth under the tongue immediately behind the lower front teeth. If this duct is damaged, saliva may not drain
properly from the submandibular gland and the gland may therefore swell in the upper part of the neck. The majority
of these swellings settle down on their own.
Need for Gland Excision. If the stone has caused multiple infections in the Submandibular Gland, this may have
damaged the gland so much that removal of the stone will have no beneficial effects. If this is the case, the
Submandibular Gland may need to be removed.
Are there are any long-term effects of having my (submandibular / sub-lingual) salivary stones removed?
Will I need further appointments?
Not necessarily. If the stone has been removed and it is thought that all the stone has been removed and that the
procedure was straightforward, then there is no need for review. If there are any queries, then a review is most
The medico-legal landscape of consent has been shaped by a number of cases, such as Chester v Afshar ,
Montgomery v Lanarkshire Health Board , Duce v Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust  amongst
others, so that it is more patient-centred.
Many of the legal claims in surgical (& medical) cases occur as a result of “failure to warn”, i.e. lack of adequately
documented and appropriate consent.
A pre-requisite for obtaining consent for a surgical (medical / dental) procedure from a patient, is a full exchange
of information regarding any risks, drawbacks and limitations of the proposed treatment and any alternatives to it
The clinicians should provide the patient with as much information as is appropriate and relevant, that it should be
in terms the patient understands & the risks should be personalised for that individual patient. Also, there should
be enough time for the patient to understand the information given and get a second opinion if needs be.