Many patients think little of their tonsils every day. Unless they are a source of pain for you, your tonsils are probably out of sight and out of mind. However, your tonsils could be the main cause of your constant bad breath, which you rightly become aware of after someone brings it to your attention.
Your tonsils aren’t all bad, though – they help filter bacteria and viruses that enter through your mouth. Tonsils are also a good source of white blood cells, helping them to kill germs. Although the role of tonsils sounds very important, they can cause persistent infections in some people, which is why they are removed.
What are Tonsil Stones?
Tonsil stones (also called tonsil calculi or tonsilloliths) are yellowish or white calcifications that form on the tonsils. The tonsils are a type of lymph node that line the back of the throat.
These stones are made of hardened, affected biofilm that is deposited in the crypts (crevices) of the tonsils. They can range in size from a small grain of rice to a grape. Usually, tonsil stones form on the palatine tonsils (on the sides of the back of the throat).
Tonsil stones can occur in an average of 5-6% of adult dental patients. Tonsil stones are twice as common in men as in women, occur more often after age 40, and are less common in blacks than in people of other ethnicities.
A mild case of tonsil stones may go unnoticed. However, if they cause people to swallow constantly or cause bad breath, tonsil stones can cause a lot of distress for the patient. Often they fall out on their own, but some stubborn tonsil stones need to be removed by a dentist.
Tonsilloliths, also known as tonsil stones, form on or in your tonsils. The small, hard stones can be white or yellow and vary in size. Tonsil stones tend to resemble grains of rice, but they can also be as large as grapes.
Usually, tonsil stones don’t cause problems, but sometimes they get too big (bigger than grapes) and affect your tonsil. Tonsil stones often smell bad and can cause your tonsils to swell.
What is the job of your Tonsils?
If you open your mouth wide, you can see the two glands at the back of your mouth that make up your tonsils. Your tonsils help your immune system keep viruses and bacteria from entering your body.
Because your tonsils are a kind of airlock for bacteria, they can build up and become clogged with food and other substances.
What are the Symptoms of Tonsil Stones?
Many people do not suspect that they have tonsil stones because they are difficult to detect. However, tonsil stones cause some noticeable symptoms. If you notice several of these symptoms at the same time, it could indicate tonsil stones:
- Bad breath – Tonsil stones can have a foul odor, so strong bad breath is one of the main symptoms.
- Sore throat or cough – Sometimes tonsil stones can irritate the throat and cause sore throat or cough. Tonsillitis can also cause pain in the throat.
- Difficulty swallowing – Depending on the size or location of the stone in the tonsils, swallowing may be affected.
- Inflamed tonsils – A tonsil stone can irritate the tonsils and cause them to swell or become infected.
- Ear pain – A tonsil stone near the nerve leading into the ear can cause ear pain.
Causes of Tonsil Stones
The causes of tonsil stones include:
- Poor dental hygiene
- Chronic mouth breathing (during the day or at night)
- Deep crevices (crypts) in the tonsils (where food particles can get stuck)
- Large tonsils
- Chronic tonsillitis (inflammation of the tonsils)
- Hormonal changes (like during pregnancy)
- Too much calcium in the blood without sufficient intake of vitamins K2 and D3
Food debris, bacteria, dead cells (skin or oral tissue), and mucus that build up on the tonsils can calcify into stones if inflammation and bacterial overgrowth are present in the mouth.
When white blood cells are sent to a site of infection, they leave microscopic calcifications that can lead to tonsil stones over time.
How to get rid of Tonsil Stones?
In most cases, tonsil stones are harmless, but they can be smelly, disgusting or unpleasant. If you have tonsil stones and want to get rid of them, you have several options.
Home remedies to remove tonsil stones:
There are three main methods to remove tonsil stones at home. You may need to use a combination of all three to get rid of tonsil stones.
Effective gargling can help solve various problems and improve your oral health. To get rid of tonsil stones, you can apply various solutions, but it is also important that you do it properly.
- Take as much warm salt water in your mouth as you can. It should not be uncomfortable.
- Gargle the mixture in your mouth and throat.
- Spit the mixture out in the sink and rinse with clean water.
The best liquids to get rid of tonsil stones by gargling are:
- Salt water
- Vinegar diluted with water, especially apple cider vinegar
- Essential oils, such as myrrh, thieves oil and lemongrass.
Some people manage to cough up the stones. If you cough so much that the cough reaches the tonsils, you can dislodge the tonsilloliths.
Certain foods have properties that make them effective against tonsil stones. If you have tonsil stones, you should try to eat more of the following foods.
- Garlic – fights bacteria and has antifungal and antiviral properties.
- Yogurt – contains probiotics that can counteract the growth of bacteria.
- Apples – fight bacteria due to their acidity.
- Chewing raw carrots – increases saliva production to naturally fight plaque.
Can your Dentist remove Tonsil Stones?
It is not recommended to attempt manual removal of tonsil stones. If the above procedures do not remove your tonsil stones, it is time to see your dentist or a medical professional. Your dentist may be able to help you with manual removal, but if your situation is too advanced, you may need to have surgery.
Medical-Surgical treatment of Tonsilloliths.
- Laser cryptolysis involves using a laser under local anesthesia to remove the crevices where tonsilloliths form. Discomfort is minimal and recovery time is short.
- Coblation cryptolysis uses radio waves and a saline solution to remove the clefts without the heat of a laser.
- Tonsillectomy involves surgical removal of the tonsils and is usually for common tonsil infections rather than tonsil stones.
- Antibiotics are an effective treatment that can limit the buildup of bacteria that form tonsil stones.
Complications of tonsil stones are extremely rare, although abscesses can form in extreme cases. In addition, particularly large tonsil stones can damage tonsil tissue and require surgery.
How can Tonsil Stones be Prevented?
It is almost impossible to prevent tonsil stones, but good oral hygiene can help. Brush your teeth frequently, floss, and rinse your mouth and tonsils with water. People who suffer from chronic tonsillitis can often develop tonsil stones. In this case, the only way to prevent further tonsil stones is to have the tonsils removed.
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