What are tonsil stones?
Tonsil stones are small white or yellow deposits that can form on your tonsils. Made of debris and bacteria, these deposits accumulate in the crevices of the tonsils. They start off soft and gradually harden.
Symptoms of tonsil stones
Tonsil stones are usually easy to see, although they may not be visible in the early stages. If you have certain symptoms, you should see your doctor to be checked for tonsil stones. These symptoms include:
Bad breath, also called halitosis, is the main symptom of tonsil stones. In one study, researchers tested people’s breath using a machine that measures odorous sulfurous compounds. They found that having one or more tonsil stones makes you 10 times more likely to have halitosis.
Throat and ear discomfort
Some people say when they have a stone, they feel as if something is stuck in their throat. Tonsil stones can also cause a chronic sore throat or trigger a case of tonsillitis. You could also have trouble swallowing, especially if you have a large stone.
Causes of tonsil stones
Everyone has tonsils, unless they have had them removed. Everyone also has food particles, debris, and bacteria in their mouth and throat. So why do some people get tonsil stones, and some people do not? Researchers aren't sure, but they point to these possibilities:
Formation of the tonsils
Large tonsils may catch more debris than smaller ones, but most authorities believe that the relative roughness of the tonsils is a more important risk factor. Everyone has holes and crevices, called "crypts," in their tonsils. The larger the crypts, the more likely they are to hold stones.
Problems with dental hygiene
Although experts disagree about whether poor dental hygiene causes tonsil stones, they agree that cleaning the mouth is important. Good oral care can reduce bacteria in the mouth and might prevent stones. Experts suggest:
- Brushing the teeth in the morning, after meals, and at night
- Brushing the tongue along with the teeth
- Using an alcohol-free mouthwash
People who habitually breathe through the mouth, during the day or at night, may form tonsil stones. Correcting the problem that causes the mouth breathing might reduce stone formation.
Diagnosis of tonsil stones
Usually, your doctor or dentist can diagnose tonsil stones by sight. Doctors can also use scans to find them, although that is seldom necessary. If you are prone to developing stones, you will probably learn to recognize them yourself.
Treatments for tonsil stones
If you have visible tonsil stones, but they aren't causing any problems, they shouldn't require treatment. If you begin to have symptoms, you can visit your doctor for removal or learn to remove the stones yourself.
To remove the stones yourself, you can push the stones out with a swab or a water flosser. Water flossers, also known as water jets or oral irrigators, produce a stream of water under low pressure that will often wash out the stone. Vigorous gargling with salt water may also dislodge the stone.
If tonsil stones are a chronic problem, you may have your tonsils removed. A tonsillectomy, the surgical procedure to remove your tonsils, involves some pain and a small risk of bleeding. If you are an older individual or have certain health conditions, your doctor may not recommend a tonsillectomy.
Cryptolysis is an alternative to removing the tonsils. In this procedure, a laser or wand is used to scar the tonsils, effectively closing most of the crypts. This procedure can be done in an office setting without general anesthesia. The procedure usually results in less pain, fewer complications, and a shorter recovery time than removal of the tonsils.
American Journal of Otolaryngology: "Laser tonsil cryptolysis: In-office 500 cases review."
British Dental Journal: "Relationship between the presence of tonsilloliths and halitosis in patients with chronic caseous tonsillitis."
Everyday Health: "What Are Tonsil Stones? Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment, and Prevention." Keck Medicine of USC: "What Are Tonsil Stones?"
Mayo Clinic News Network: "Tuesday Q and A: Self-care steps may help prevent tonsil stones from returning."
North Carolina Health Information Exchange: "Water Flosser and Tonsil Stones – Does It Help?"
Texas Children's Hospital: "My child has bad breath: What do I do?"
UPMC Health Beat: "What Are Tonsil Stones (Tonsilloliths)? Tonsil Stone Symptoms and Treatment."
Top Why Do People Get Tonsil Stones Related Articles
Tonsillitis (Adenoiditis)Tonsillitis is a contagious infection with symptoms of bad breath, snoring, congestion, headache, hoarseness, laryngitis, and coughing up blood. Tonsillitis can be caused by acute infection of the tonsils, and several types of bacteria or viruses (for example, strep throat or mononucleosis). There are two types of tonsillitis, acute and chronic. Acute tonsillitis lasts from 1-2 weeks while chronic tonsillitis can last from months to years. Treatment of tonsillitis and adenoids include antibiotics, over-the-counter medications, and home remedies to relieve pain and inflammation, for example, saltwater gargle, slippery elm throat lozenges, sipping warm beverages and eating frozen foods (ice cream, popsicles), serrapeptase, papain, and andrographism Some people with chronic tonsillitis may need surgery (tonsillectomy or adenoidectomy).
Bad Breath (Halitosis)Bad breath can result from poor oral hygiene habits and may be a sign of other health problems. Bad breath, also called halitosis, can be made worse by the types of food eaten and other unhealthy lifestyle habits.
What Causes Bad Breath (Halitosis)? 17 Causes & Medical SolutionsDo you know what causes bad breath (halitosis)? Learn how drinking alcohol, gum disease, poor health, smoking, certain foods like garlic, and even dieting can lead to chronic bad breath. Find out how to get rid of bad breath as well, with information on brushing, mouth wash, and expert oral care.
How Can I Permanently Get Rid of Bad Breath? 10 Causes & 10 TipsBad breath, medically known as halitosis, is usually perceived as a sign of bad oral hygiene. To understand if you can get rid of bad breath permanently, you and your doctor and dentist will first need to look at its probable causes.
How Do You Get Rid of Tonsil Stones?What are tonsil stones and how do you get rid of them? Learn more about tonsil stone problems and what you can do about tonsil stones.
Is It Bad to Have the Tonsils Removed?Tonsils are the two protruding tissue masses at the back of your throat. Tonsillectomy means the removal of the tonsils from the back of your throat. The concerns about removing the tonsils include concerns about immunity and the possibility of antibiotic advancement.
Is Tonsillitis Contagious?Tonsillitis is a common infection, especially in kids. Tonsillitis is caused by viruses and bacteria like the flu and herpes simplex virus, and Streptococcus bacteria. These viruses and bacterium are spread person to person. Symptoms of tonsillitis are a yellow or white coating on the tonsils, throat pain, pain when swallowing, and hoarseness.
Your Breath and HealthBad breath causes include snoring, gum disease, acid reflux, respiratory infections, tonsil stones, diabetes, liver failure, kidney failure, H. pylori, dehydration, infections, and use of certain medications. Bad breath cures or remedies depend on the underlying cause. Some people use bad breath toothpaste or mouthwash to combat the problem.
Sore throat (throat pain) usually is described as pain or discomfort in the throat area. A sore throat may be caused by bacterial infections, viral infections, toxins, irritants, trauma, or injury to the throat area. Common symptoms of a sore throat include a fever, cough, runny nose, hoarseness, earaches, sneezing, and body aches. Home remedies for a sore throat include warm soothing liquids and throat lozenges. OTC remedies for a sore throat include OTC pain relievers such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen. Antibiotics may be necessary for some cases of sore throat.
Swallowing Problems (Dysphagia)Dysphagia or difficulty in swallowing, swallowing problems. Dysphagia is due to problems in nerve or muscle control. It is common, for example, after a stroke. Dysphagia compromises nutrition and hydration and may lead to aspiration pneumonia and dehydration.
Tonsil StonesTonsil stones are small clusters of calcifications that form when food, dead cells, mucus, and bacteria get stuck in the nooks and crannies of the tonsils. Tonsil stones are hard, appear as white or yellowish formations on the tonsils, and usually smell bad due to bacteria. If symptoms occur, they may include persistent bad breath, sore throat, difficulty swallowing, ear pain, and cough.
Tonsil Stones PictureTonsil stones (also called tonsilloliths) form when bacteria and mucus get trapped and calcify in your tonsils' nooks and crannies, leaving a hard piece of matter and a bad taste in your throat. See a picture of Tonsil Stones and learn more about the health topic.
Will Tonsillitis Go Away on Its Own?Tonsils are the two oval-shaped pads of tissue in the back of your throat. They help protect your body from infection. However, sometimes they get infected and inflamed (red and swollen) and this is called tonsillitis. Tonsillitis symptoms usually go away after three to four days.