What are tonsil stones? The ugly, white, stone-like formations that accumulate in the crevices of your tonsils are Tonsil stones, also known as tonsilloliths, are clumps of calcified material that accumulate in the crevices of your tonsils. These clumps are usually composed of calcium but can contain phosphorus and magnesium, as well as ammonia and carbonate. Tonsil stones feel unpleasant, as they are in reality foreign objects lodged in your tonsil crypts and can be difficult to remove, but overall are not dangerous to your health. They can, however, cause bad breath, and they themselves always smell quite foul.
As far as symptoms go, tonsil stones may not even produce any, however, they can cause bad breath and some pain when swallowing. Some of the less common symptoms are:
- Closing and tightening of the throat
- Coughing and choking
- Metallic taste in your mouth
- Bad breath is one of the main indicators of tonsil stones. One study has shown that 75 percent of people who had a high concentration of sulfur compounds in their mouth also had tonsil stones.
If your tonsil stones are quite large, they can cause:
- A sore throat. Tonsil stones combined with tonsillitis result in a sore throat, however, in those cases it can be quite difficult to determine which one of these conditions cause the pain.
- Earache. Since tonsils and the ears share the nerve pathways you may experience some pain in the ear.
- Tonsil swelling happens when the debris in the tonsil crypts hardens and causes an inflammation of the tonsil, which results in swelling.
- White debris. While in most cases your tonsil stones will be visible, there are several situations when it is not possible to see the white debris, as it can only be detectable with the help of a CT scan or a magnetic resonance imaging.
- Bad taste in the back of your mouth closes to the throat.
They usually occur more in teenagers than in adults, but the adult population is also affected by them.
How Do Tonsil Stones Form and What Causes Them?
Tonsil stones are formed through the accumulation of the sulfur-producing bacteria and other debris that sometimes become lodged in the tonsil crevices. This debris may contain mucus and food particles, which decay in the back of the throat and accumulate in the crypts on the surface of your tonsils.
These filled crevices attract additional debris and after a while, these fillings begin to calcify which results in the formation of yellow or white tonsil stones. In some cases, you may only get one large tonsil stone or several smaller ones. An interesting thing is that you do not have to have a tonsil infection to have a tonsil stone, as they can occur due to a simple accumulation of food particles and debris.
However, if you suffer from a throat infection, whether it comes from bacteria or a virus, this infection can be the cause of your tonsil stones.
How to Treat Tonsil Stones?
There are several ways of treating tonsil stones, both professionally and at home. Listed below are several methods that have proven to be quite effective.
No treatment. In a lot of cases not treating tonsil stones can actually make them go away. If you have no symptoms you may not even realize you have them and they can go away on their own in a few days without you even noticing.
Removal at home. You can remove tonsil stones at home with a cotton swab or a slanted toothbrush. Just be careful not to irritate your throat and beware of the gag reflex.
Salt water. Gargling with warm salt water can help dislodge the tonsil stones and soothe the discomfort. Just make sure you do not swallow the solution.
Antibiotics. If your tonsil stones are a result of a bacterial infection, your doctor may prescribe you an antibiotic to get rid of the underlying cause. Also, antibiotics come with side effects, so you should consider taking a probiotic while you are taking antibiotics such as penicillin or amoxicillin.
Surgery. When your tonsil stones are exceptionally large and you experience a lot of symptoms, it may become necessary to remove them surgically. In some cases, a surgeon can perform the operation with a simple local numbing agent, and that procedure does not require general anesthesia.
Can You Prevent Tonsil Stones?
Tonsil stones are usually more common in people who experience chronic tonsillitis, and in these cases, the only certain way to prevent further tonsil stones is the surgical removal of the tonsils. This operation is known as a tonsillectomy and it is performed in order to remove the tonsils entirely, which eliminates the further formation of tonsil stones. Tonsillectomy is usually done under general anesthesia, but sometimes can be done with just a local numbing agent.
The best thing you can do is keep good oral hygiene. You should brush your teeth at least twice a day, and you should also brush your tongue, and floss regularly. Avoid using harsh oral rinses that are packed with alcohol and opt for a gentler or a natural version. Strong rinses can actually be counterproductive as they can kill the good bacteria along with the bad.
Adding fermented foods to your diet can be very helpful, as they can maintain the balance between the microorganisms and help with your digestive tract. Helpful fermented foods:
- Kombucha – a fermented black tea rich in helpful gut microorganisms
- Pickles – made with vinegar which is very beneficial for the gut flora
- Sauerkraut – a fermented cabbage easily made with just cabbage and salt
- Miso – a paste made from fermented grains and soybeans, packed with essential vitamins and minerals
- Tempeh – fermented soybeans rich in protein
- Kimchi – made from fermented cabbage, similar to sauerkraut but spicier
- Vinegar – especially apple cider vinegar, made by fermenting wine or cider
- Cultured cheese and butter – made from sour milk or cream
- Fish sauce – made from mashed fish and salt