|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 stone
Patients presenting with sialolithiasis may benefit from a trial of conservative management especially if the stone is small.
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 stone disease.
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
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
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
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 likely.
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 (even non-
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.