As we have written about before, having enough saliva is essential to good oral health. Have you felt like your mouth is drier than usual? Have you noticed tenderness or a swollen lump under your tongue? Are you experiencing a dull pain inside your cheek near your jaw, especially before meals? If any of these are true, you may be suffering from a blocked salivary gland. Didn’t even know that existed? No worries, we’ll go through the causes, symptoms, and best treatments for a blocked salivary gland!
All About Salivary Glands
There are three main salivary glands, which provide saliva to your mouth in two main areas. The largest gland is called your parotid gland, and it is located right behind your jaw bone. It connects to your mouth through a duct that lets saliva out along your cheek where your jaw hinges. Your submandibular gland produces saliva under your lower jawbone and connects through a duct to the area beneath your tongue. The smallest gland is called your sublingual gland, and it sits directly under your tongue. It has several short ducts that allow the saliva to enter your mouth under your tongue.
Causes of a Blocked Salivary Gland
Although it is 99% water, saliva also contains minerals and salts that help fight bacteria in your mouth and remineralize your teeth. Sometimes, especially if you are dehydrated or taking medications which reduce saliva flow, your saliva doesn’t have enough water in it to keep things flowing. These minerals can clump together and create tiny stones, similar to kidney stones, which can block your thin salivary ducts. Once these become blocked, it can be difficult to clear the stones and you are more susceptible to dry mouth, pain, and infection. Stones occur most often in middle-aged adults. Salivary stones are the most common cause of a blocked gland, but excess mucus from a cold, or inflammation can also cause these ducts to be too narrow for proper flow.
You will most likely experience symptoms under your tongue or near the hinge of your jawbone where the narrow ducts connect to your mouth. If you have a blocked salivary gland, you may notice:
- lumps or bulges
- pain or tenderness
- a foul taste
- symptoms appear or increase at mealtimes (when saliva flow increases)
The best way to clear blocked salivary glands is to ramp up saliva production. The best way to do this is to drink lots and lots of water. If that doesn’t’ help, try sucking on sugar-free sour candies such as lemon drops. Gentle heat on the area can help ease the inflammation and help the stone to clear out. Additionally, gently massaging the area can help to break up the stone to dislodge it.
When to get help
If home treatments aren’t helping, if you experience a foul taste, or if the pain becomes significant enough to require medication, you should schedule an appointment with your dentist. They can take a better look with X-rays and determine if the issue is a blocked salivary gland or something more serious. Often, your dentist may are able to massage the stone out with special tools, and if they can’t they may choose to do a minimally invasive in-office procedure to remove the stone. A blocked salivary gland can sometimes lead to an infection, especially if left too long. Your dentist may prescribe antibiotics to help fight the infection from inside the gland.