Are you familiar with the yellowish-white spots that you may find on your tonsils? These oval-shaped pads of tissue, located on both sides of the back of the mouth, can be difficult to spot without using a mirror. If you have seen such spots, it’s likely you are dealing with tonsil stones, also known as tonsilloliths or tonsilliths. These deposits can form, harden, and grow on and inside the tonsils, making them a very common problem.
Tonsil stones can range in size from tiny, barely visible pieces to golf ball-sized lumps. They are usually soft and light yellow or white in color, but they can harden over time. In rare cases, tonsil stones can grow to be larger than a golf ball if left undisturbed for an extended period. These stones can cause discomfort and bad breath, so identifying and removing them is important for maintaining good oral health.
Though usually harmless, these spots can still be unpleasant and embarrassing. Fortunately, they can often be removed easily at home and typically pose no serious risks to your health. In most cases, these stones are not an indication of any underlying illness or disease, and they usually won’t have any other negative effects on your health.
Though tonsil stones may not cause serious health issues, they can still be an annoyance due to unpleasant symptoms such as bad breath and throat discomfort. In addition, they may regenerate even after removal, making them a continuous nuisance.
Tonsil stones are not a pleasant topic of conversation, but they’re important to know about. Here’s what you need to know about why tonsil stones form, the symptoms they cause, and how to get rid of them.
How Common Are Tonsil Stones?
Tonsil stones can occur in anyone with tonsils, regardless of age or gender. However, over time, an individual’s likelihood to develop tonsil stones may change. This is because as we move from childhood to adulthood, our tonsils tend to become larger and more prone to tonsil stones, and then become smaller and less likely to develop them as we age.
Unfortunately, there is not much data available on how many people are affected by tonsil stones, mostly because many individuals may not even realize they have them. In some cases, people with tonsil stones may not experience any symptoms and may not seek medical attention. Furthermore, the condition is rarely serious, which is another reason why there are so few studies on the subject.
Research suggests that tonsil stones may be much more common than previously thought, with prevalence rates estimated to be as high as 46 percent – or even higher. This means that up to one in two people may be affected by tonsil stones, making them a surprisingly common affliction.
Signs and Symptoms of Tonsil Stones
Two of the most common symptoms of tonsil stones are bad breath and discomfort. These symptoms, along with seeing white flecks in the back of the throat, are what usually prompt people to seek medical advice, leading to a tonsil stones diagnosis. Other potential symptoms include spots in your mouth, a chronic sore throat, or pain. Bad breath might also be a sign that brings people to the doctor or dentist.
It’s also possible to have tonsil stones without any symptoms at all. Tonsil stones are quite common, but in some cases, the stones may be too small or buried so deeply in the throat that they’re not visible. This might explain why the condition is often underestimated by doctors.
If you’re experiencing persistent bad breath, pale yellow or white gravel-sized bumps on your tonsils, a sore throat, discomfort and a sensation of something being stuck in the back of your throat, and difficulty swallowing, you may be suffering from tonsil stones. Other common symptoms include a persistent foul taste in the mouth, swollen glands in the neck, and ear pain. If you experience any of these symptoms, it’s important to get them checked out by a doctor.
If you experience any of the following symptoms – swelling, inflammation, bleeding in your tonsils, asymmetry (one side bigger or looks/feels different from the other), ear pain, difficulty swallowing, or a sore throat that has lasted for more than a month – it is important to make an appointment with your doctor. These symptoms may be signs of a more serious illness such as strep throat, tonsillitis, or even cancer, and should be addressed as soon as possible. Don’t delay in seeking medical attention for these potentially serious conditions.
Causes and Risk Factors of Tonsil Stones
In some people, the surface of the tonsils is significantly more irregular than smooth and can have deep crevices and pockets, known as “crypts”, which are deep enough to trap food particles, bacteria, saliva, and other debris. This debris, combined with plaque and cellular debris such as skin cells and the lining of the mouth, can collect in the crevices and pits of the tonsils and over time can become impacted and eventually form into tonsil stones. Tonsil stones tend to cause bad breath due to the foul-smelling bacteria that accumulate within the stones.
There’s an misconceptions that having tonsil stones means you have poor oral hygiene. But in reality, it’s usually not the case; the way your tonsils are shaped is a bigger factor. People with deep crypts (or crevices) in their tonsils are more likely to develop growths because those crevices allow food and debris to build up.
However, it should be noted that poor oral hygiene can contribute to the problem. Regularly brushing, flossing, and gargling water in the back of your throat can help prevent tonsil stones from forming. Taking care of your oral hygiene is an important step in avoiding this issue.
How Are Tonsil Stones Diagnosed?
If you notice strange growths on your tonsils that look like they might be tonsil stones or if you’re experiencing chronic bad breath or throat discomfort that won’t go away even with diligent brushing, flossing, and gargling with water, it’s important to visit a doctor for further evaluation. Your primary care provider may refer you to an otolaryngologist, also known as an ENT, for diagnosis and treatment.
Upon inspecting your mouth and throat, a specialist is likely able to identify these white, pearl-like growths in the back of the throat right away and won’t mistake them for anything else.
Duration of Tonsil Stones
Getting rid of tonsil stones can be fast and simple if you’re able to remove them yourself at home. However, if they are difficult to remove or keep coming back, they become a more persistent problem. There is no exact timeline for tonsil stones – they can come and go in flares, or they can persist for years. Some people may experience them once or twice over years, while others may get them several times a week. Regardless of the frequency, it’s important to take steps to reduce their recurrence.
Good oral hygiene and prompt action when you notice tonsil stones can help reduce the inconvenience they can cause. If the stones become a chronic issue, it’s worthwhile discussing surgical treatment options with your doctor, such as tonsil removal, which will prevent recurrence of stones permanently.
Treatment of Tonsil Stones
If you have tonsil stones, your doctor will likely recommend preventive measures to clear them out and reduce your symptoms. However, if they’re not causing any unpleasant symptoms, your doctor may advise you to leave them alone.
At-home management of tonsil stones is possible and can be done in various ways. Some people prefer to push out the stones with a cotton swab or their finger, but this may trigger your gag reflex. If that’s the case, a water flosser is the best option for tonsil stone removal. It’s effective, safe, and doesn’t cause gagging. Whatever method you choose, avoid using sharp objects like toothpicks or pins to dislodge the stones, as this can cause injury or bleeding.
Treatment of Tonsil Stones with Medication
Your doctor may prescribe antibiotics or an anti-inflammatory medication such as a corticosteroid to help alleviate symptoms of a tonsil stone flare. These medications can help reduce swelling and make the tonsil crypts less shallow, but should only be used to treat a single episode. Long-term use of these medications is not recommended.
Is Surgery a Treatment Option for Tonsil Stones?
Surgery is another option for removal of tonsil stones, but it is generally not recommended for treating tonsil stones unless the stones are severely impacting your life. There is also a higher risk of tonsillitis (an infection of the tonsils) if you have frequent tonsil stones, which can be another valid reason to consider surgery as a solution.
Surgical options to treat tonsil stones are –
A tonsillectomy is an effective and permanent way to prevent tonsil stones from forming. However, it is important to be aware of the potential risks associated with this surgery. General anesthesia is required, and postoperative pain can be severe, lasting for several weeks. Additionally, any surgical procedure carries a risk of bleeding and infection. If you are considering a tonsillectomy, make sure to discuss these risks with your healthcare provider to ensure you make an informed decision.
2. Laser Tonsil Cryptolysis
In this procedure, surgeons use a highly precise laser to expertly remove tonsil crypts to prevent the recurrence of tonsil stones. The laser is extremely precise, making it an ideal method for eliminating crypts and preventing the formation of future tonsil stones. With this minimally invasive procedure, surgeons can provide a long-term solution to the problem of tonsil stones.
3. Coblation Cryptolysis
Coblation Cryptolysis is a minimally-invasive procedure that uses radiofrequency energy and saline to remove tonsil crypts and crevices with reduced risk of complications. Unlike laser cryptolysis, the temperature used with Coblation is lower, reducing the risk of side effects and making it a safer option for those needing tonsil crypt removal.
Both methods of cryptolysis require only local anesthesia – as opposed to tonsillectomies, which are done under general anesthesia – meaning there may be less pain and a faster recovery afterwards. Local anesthesia reduces the risk of complications, allowing for a more comfortable and quicker recovery time. Additionally, there is typically less post-operative care required, leading to a simpler and quicker recovery process.
A 2017 review concluded that there is not yet sufficient evidence to support the claim that coblation cryptolysis is safer, better tolerated by patients, or leads to improved post-operative outcomes when compared to other procedures such as tonsillectomy or laser tonsil cryptolysis. It is important to note that further research is needed before any definitive conclusions can be made.
Prevention of Tonsil Stones
Good oral hygiene is an important factor in preventing tonsil stones from forming. While poor oral hygiene is not the only cause of tonsil stones, keeping your mouth clean and free of any food particles or bacteria can help reduce their appearance. Brush your teeth twice daily and floss regularly to remove any debris, then rinse with an antiseptic mouthwash to reduce bacteria levels. Additionally, gargle with warm salt water or a special solution to reduce your risk of tonsil stones.
Make sure you follow these healthy lifestyle practices –
1. Brush your teeth and do regular floss
Keeping your mouth clean is a key part of preventing tonsil stones from developing. Removing food particles by brushing and flossing regularly can help minimize the amount of materials and bacteria in your mouth that may contribute to stone growth. For best results, brush your teeth after meals, and make sure to brush in the morning after you wake up, and before bed. Additionally, flossing daily can help remove any food particles that may be lodged between your teeth. Taking these steps regularly can help keep your mouth clean and reduce your risk of developing tonsil stones.
2. Do Water Gargle Daily
In addition to brushing your teeth and flossing regularly, gargling with water in the back of your throat after eating (and after brushing and flossing) can help clear away debris and food particles that may lead to tonsil stones. Avoid gargling with mouthwashes that contain alcohol, as these can cause irritation and swelling in the area where the tonsil stones form.
Gargling with salt water can provide additional benefits by reducing inflammation and helping to prevent the buildup of food particles and other materials. Doing this after meals, brushing and flossing can help keep tonsil stones away and maintain good overall oral hygiene.
3. Stop smoking
Smoking, or any activity that causes inflammation in the mouth or throat, can irritate your tonsils, making them more prone to developing crypts and increasing your risk of developing tonsil stones. Taking steps to reduce your exposure to irritants such as smoking can help protect your tonsils and reduce your risk of tonsil stones.
4. Avoid sugary drinks
Avoid drinking sugary beverages like juice and soda, as they can act as a food source for bacteria, potentially leading to the accumulation of bacteria in your tonsils. Instead, opt for drinks that are lower in sugar, such as water or unsweetened tea, to help keep your throat bacteria-free.
Hope you found this article useful and informative. Please share this piece of information with your friends and family on social media.