Tonsil stones, also known as tonsilloliths, can be a menace if you suffer from them often. Approximately 8–10% of adults suffer from tonsil stones at least once in their lifetime, and they can be a recurring issue.
Tonsil stones are hard, stone-like, calcified masses lodged within the pockets (crypts) of the tonsils, a pair of oval, fleshy pads at the back of the throat.
Tonsil stones are common; they can be asymptomatic.
Maintaining good oral hygiene helps prevent tonsil stones.
Home remedies may not be enough if you suffer from recurrent episodes of tonsil stones. Professional help is recommended.
The tonsils are a pair of oval, fleshy pads at the back of your throat, one on each side. Your tonsils are an essential part of your immune system. They prevent germs from entering the body via the mouth and help you fight infections.
What are tonsil stones?
Tonsil stones are white or yellowish hard, stone-like formations. They develop when calcium deposits and bacteria grow in the tonsil crypts The tonsils have typical folds (pockets), known as tonsillar crypts. These pockets hold back debris, food particles, plaque, and calculus remnants that solidify with time and form tonsil stones.
Tonsil stones are common. You can have multiple at once, and they may vary in size from a tiny bump to a pea-sized mass.
What are the symptoms of tonsil stones?
A person with tonsil stones may not have any symptoms. The stones may be diagnosed when you visit an ENT or a dentist. Some symptoms include:
- Bad breath. A study noted that in patients with bad breath, 75% of the subjects had tonsilloliths.
- Chronic sore throat.
- Throat irritation and associated cough.
- Pain during swallowing
- Foreign body sensation
Causes of tonsil stones
The structure and form of your tonsils are very important. In some people, the surface of the tonsils is oddly uneven, with grooves and pockets deep enough to collect food particles, germs, saliva, and other debris. People with deep crypts are more likely to develop stones because the pockets quickly catch food and debris.
How to prevent tonsil stones?
Maintaining proper oral health hygiene is of utmost importance to prevent tonsil stones. You can follow some simple steps at home:
- Brush and floss your teeth every day.
- Scrap the surface of your tongue with a tongue cleaner.
- After eating, rinse your mouth with lukewarm salt water.
- Gargle with salt water or an antiseptic mouth rinse.
- Quit smoking.
- Drink lots of water.
If you often get tonsil stones, you can use a water flosser. A water flosser directs a jet spray of water on the tonsils and helps to dislodge the stones.
How to treat tonsil stones?
Because they are not dangerous, doctors may advise you to leave them alone if you are not experiencing any bothersome symptoms. If they disturb you, these at-home cures may help you cope:
- Coughing forcefully can help to dislodge the tonsil stones.
- A water flosser to spray out the stones under water pressure.
- Pushing out the stones with a cotton swab (avoid sharp objects). Remember to put pressure toward your mouth opening, not backward.
- At times, tonsil stones go away as you swallow food.
If you are suffering from recurrent tonsil stones, it might be time to seek professional help. For recurrent tonsil stone flare-ups, a physician may prescribe antibiotics or an anti-inflammatory drug. These drugs help to prevent further infections and relieve the symptoms.
Surgical scraping (curettage) is a way to remove the tonsil stone. Larger masses may need surgical removal under topical or local anesthesia. If none of the above works out, removing the affected tonsils (tonsillectomy) is the last resort.
Laser cryptanalysis is a novel technique for reducing the pocket depths and recontouring the surface of the tonsils with lasers. This prevents easy debris build-up in the tonsillar crypts.
What are the risks of tonsil stones?
These stones are not a symptom of illness or disease. They usually have no significant health hazards or harmful consequences for your overall health. However, the risk of developing tonsillitis (infection of the tonsils) increases if you suffer from frequent bouts of tonsil stones.
Tonsil stones are hard deposits of germs and debris in the crevices of your tonsils. Tonsil stones may occur once or twice in a lifetime or every other week. Though tonsil stones do not pose any severe health issues, oral hygiene can work wonders in preventing discomfort. You might get rid of them at home by gargling with salt water, coughing, or using a water pick. It is best to consult a doctor if it poses a nuisance for you.
- ISRN Dentistry. The prevalence of tonsilloliths and other soft tissue calcifications in patients attending oral and maxillofacial radiology clinics of the University of iowa.
- American Journal of Otolaryngology and Head and Neck Surgery. Laser tonsil cryptolysis: in-office 500 cases review.
- National Library of Medicine. Tonsillolith: A polymicrobial biofilm.