What are tonsil stones?
Your tonsils help to catch incoming bacteria and viruses. They stop them from traveling down your throat and entering your body. Tonsils have small holes and crevices where things like food, bacteria, mucus, and other substances can become trapped. Once these items are trapped, they can form together and harden, which creates a tonsil stone.
Tonsil stones, or tonsilloliths, are usually small and can be the source of bad breath. In the beginning, tonsil stones are soft, white lumps that you might not be able to see. As time goes by, they harden and form into small, calcified stones. These stones often have a bad smell even once they are removed from the tonsil.
Symptoms of tonsil stones
You might not even know that you have tonsil stones. Some people who have them show no symptoms at all. However, there are some signs of tonsilloliths that you can look out for.
Tonsil stones can cause you to have difficulty swallowing, or you may feel like something is stuck in the back of your throat. They may be visible, looking like white or yellow patches on your tonsils.
Causes of tonsil stones
Tonsil stones can be caused by:
- Tonsillitis, or recurring inflammation of the tonsils
- Poor oral hygiene
- Large tonsils that collect more buildup than small ones do
- Sinus issues
Practicing good oral hygiene can help reduce your chances of developing tonsil stones. You should brush your teeth and tongue and gargle with salt water after eating to clean out your mouth and tonsils.
Diagnosis of tonsil stones
Tonsil stones are much more common in adults than in children, but people of any age can get them.
For many people, tonsil stones aren’t serious and may not have any noticeable symptoms. Most are small, only one or two millimeters. Large tonsil stones may be up to one centimeter. These large stones might cause you discomfort or unwanted symptoms.
If you think that you have tonsil stones, your doctor might perform a scan, like an x-ray, to detect them. Your doctor will also give you an exam and ask about your symptoms to determine the best way to treat your tonsilloliths.
Treatments for tonsil stones
Many tonsil stones don’t require professional care. Usually, they will go away on their own with time. However, there are ways that you can get rid of tonsils stones carefully in your own home.
The first thing that you can do to get rid of tonsil stones is to gargle with saltwater. This not only relieves the pain and discomfort but can help to loosen up the stones. To do so, mix one teaspoon of salt in an eight-ounce glass of warm water, then gargle and swish the water around your mouth.
Another thing that you can do to get rid of tonsil stones at home is to try to dislodge them with an object like a Q-tip or toothbrush. You should do this carefully. However, if the stones are loose then they should come out fairly easily.
Lastly, coughing might help to loosen and dislodge your tonsil stones.
If you’ve tried home remedies to get rid of your tonsil stones and they haven’t worked, you can make an appointment with your doctor. Your doctor can remove them for you by first numbing your throat and then taking the stone out.
If your tonsil stones are causing an oral infection due to trapped bacteria, your doctor may recommend a course of antibiotics. This will kill off any bacteria in the tonsils and help to reduce your bothersome symptoms.
If your tonsil stones are recurring and cause you pain and discomfort, your doctor may suggest surgery. Most commonly, doctors will suggest a tonsillectomy to have the tonsils removed completely.
Other surgeries to help get rid of tonsilloliths involve shrinking the crevices in the tonsils. Laser tonsil cryptolysis uses a laser to minimize the areas where bacteria can get trapped in the tonsils. A similar procedure, coblation cryptolysis, does the same thing but does not use heat.
Complications of tonsil stones
Most tonsil stones are not serious, but sometimes they can have an effect on your quality of life. If they are continually painful or bothersome, you should reach out to your medical professional.
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