Tonsil Stones: Everything You Need To Know

Tonsil stones are also known as Tonsillotiths and are hard yellow or white formations that are located on or within the tonsils. In this article, we will know more about these tonsil stones.

Tonsil Stones: Overview

Tonsil stones are not always easy to see and they can be rice-sized or can even be the size of a large grape. For people with tonsil stones or tonsilloliths, it is common to not even realize that they have them. Tonsil stones can rarely cause larger health complications. At times these tonsil stones can grow into larger formations that can make your tonsils swell, and they usually have an unpleasant odor.

Symptoms of Tonsil Stones:

Although certain tonsil stones might be difficult to see, they might still cause some noticeable symptoms. Some of the symptoms of tonsil stones include sore throat, bad breath, trouble swallowing, ongoing cough, ear pain, swollen tonsils, white or yellow debris on your tonsil.

Smaller tonsil stones are more common than the larger ones and these small tonsil stones might not cause any symptom.

Causes of Tonsil Stones:

Our tonsils are made of crevices, tunnels, and pits known as tonsil crypts. Various types of debris like dead cells, saliva, mucus, and food, can get trapped in these pockets and build up. Fungi and bacteria feed on this buildup and result in a distinct odor.

The debris hardens over time and turns to a tonsil stone. Some patients might have only a single tonsil stone, while others might have several smaller formations.

Large tonsils, poor dental hygiene, chronic sinus problems, chronic tonsillitis or, inflamed tonsils are some of the potential causes of tonsil stones.

Diagnosis of Tonsil Stones:

If you have tonsil stones or have chronic bad breath or throat discomfort that won’t go easily despite flossing, brushing, and gargling water, you must consult with your doctor for a proper evaluation and treatment options for your condition.

Your doctor might refer you to an otolaryngologist for appropriate diagnosis and treatment. A specialist would not require conducting any special tests if they see the white-colored, pearl-like growths in the back of your throat. This is because they could be tonsil stones.

Treatment of Tonsil Stones:

Now, let us see some of the treatment options for tonsil stones.

Gargling:

Vigorously gargling with salt water can help you ease throat discomfort and might also help dislodge tonsil stones. Saltwater might even help in changing your mouth chemistry. It can also help you get rid of the odor that might be caused due to tonsil stones.

For using this remedy, simply dissolve ½ teaspoon salt in 8 ounces of warm water and then gargle in this saltwater.

Manual Removal of Tonsil Stones:

Removing the tonsil stones by yourself using rigid items like a toothbrush is strictly not recommended. Tonsils are delicate tissues and it is important to be gentle while removing the stone manually. We must make you aware that manual removal of tonsil stones could be risky and result in several complications like infection and bleeding. Still, if you want to try something, then gently use a cotton swab to remove the stone if possible.

Medicines For Tonsil Stones:

The doctor might prescribe you some antibiotics or an anti-inflammatory medicine like a corticosteroid for tonsil stone flares. However, these medicines would be used only to aid clear up an episode of tonsil stones and must not be prescribed for long-term use. These medicines can aid in reducing swelling and make the crypts less shallow.

But since these antibiotics and medicines should not be prescribed for a long-term use, so the tonsil stones would likely come back after the medicines are stopped.

Surgery For Tonsil Stones:

Surgical removal of tonsil stones is also possible. But, doctors usually do not recommend a tonsillectomy for treating tonsil stones, unless the patient’s life is seriously impacted negatively by the tonsil stone. However, it is not just the tonsillectomy, but there are several other procedures of surgery for the removal of tonsil stones. Below are some of the surgical options for treating tonsil stones.

Tonsillectomy:

Tonsillectomy is a surgery to remove the tonsils that mean that the tonsil stones cannot grow back. Though this procedure is the most effective way to prevent the formation of tonsil stones, there are some potentially serious risks to be aware of while considering this surgery.

Tonsillectomy requires general anesthesia, and the procedure is painful that might last for weeks. Again, as with any other surgery, there is a risk of infection and bleeding.

Laser Tonsil Cryptolysis:

This type of surgical procedure can also remove tonsil stones. Surgeons make use of the laser to get rid of tonsil crypts for preventing the formation of tonsil stones.

Coblation Cryptolysis:

In this surgical procedure, surgeons use radio-frequency energy and saline for removing tonsil crypts and cervices. There is a lower risk of specific complications in this procedure since it is done at a lower temperature than with the procedure of laser tonsil cryptolosis.(1)

This procedure requires using local anesthesia, so there might be less pain afterward and faster recoveries.

However, in August 2017, a review published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews concluded that there is not sufficient evidence yet to show that Coblation cryptolysis is better or safer in patients with tonsil stones as compared with other procedures, like tonsillectomy or laser tonsil cryptolysis.(2)

Prevention of Tonsil Stones:

Poor oral hygiene is the primary cause of tonsil stones. You should keep your mouth clean and keep away from bacteria or any food particles that might prevent tonsil stones. Below are some of the preventive features of tonsil stones.

Regularly Brush Your Teeth And Floss:

Brush your teeth regularly and keep your mouth clean and remove any food particles that can prevent tonsil stones. Make sure that you are brushing your teeth and flossing properly after every meal, and also in the morning after bed and before bed.

Gargle Water:

Gargling water after eating along with brushing your teeth and flossing can also help in clearing away debris and food particles for preventing buildup of material that results in tonsil stones. You should avoid gargling with mouthwashes containing alcohol, which might cause irritation and swelling in the area in which there occurs the tonsil stones. You might get extra benefit by gargling with salt water as it helps in reducing any swelling in the area and also prevent buildup of food particles or other materials.

Quit Smoking:

You should quit smoking since it can irritate your tonsils, which can increase the risk of developing tonsil stones.

Avoid Sugary Drinks:

You must also avoid sugary drinks. Steer clear of beverages that are packed with sugar like sodas and juice, since they might act as a nutrient source for bacteria, thus helping in accumulate in your tonsils.

Tonsil Stones: FAQs

Are Tonsil Stones Contagious?

No, tonsil stones are not contagious. These stones are made of a material known as Biofilm. (3) In our mouth, a biofilm is a combination of our mouth’s fungi and bacteria interacting with your mouth’s chemistry. This particular mixture then attaches itself to any moist surface.

The material becomes hardened within your tonsil when you have tonsil stones. Plaque is another common biofilm in our mouth. These biofilms are also known to play a crucial role in gum diseases and cavities.

How Common Are Tonsil Stones?

Tonsil stones can occur in any person who has their tonsils, regardless of gender or their age. However, a person’s likelihood to develop these stones might change over time, which means that someone who regularly got tonsil stones earlier, might get them less frequently, or vice versa. This is because tonsils can develop more crypts as one person reach adolescence and into their young adulthood, and then turn smaller and less prone to tonsilloliths or tonsil stones as they age.

The data evaluating how many individuals are affected by tonsilloliths or tonsil stones are lacking, largely because of the fact that in many cases, people might not even realize they have them. Some individuals with tonsil stones do not experience any symptom and thus might not seek medical help. Apart from this, even when tonsil stones are diagnosed, it is rarely serious.

The research that exist, suggests that tonsil stones might be very common with prevalence rates having been estimated somewhere from 25% to more than 46%.(3, 4)

What Are The Complications Associated With Tonsil Stones?

Now, it’s time to look at some of the complications associated with tonsil stones. Though complications from this condition are rare, however, they are possible. One of the most serious complications of tonsil stones is a deep infection of the tonsils, known as an abscess.(5)

Larger sized tonsil stones can damage and disrupt normal tonsil tissue and this can cause significant swelling, infection, and inflammation.

In addition, it must be mentioned that tonsil stones that are linked to the infection of tonsils might require surgery.

What Is The Outlook Of Tonsil Stones?

Tonsil stones are quite common. Though they can bring a range of symptoms, they cause any complication, quite rarely.

If you suffer from frequent tonsil stones, make sure that you practice good oral and dental hygiene and remain well hydrated. If these stones become a problem or if you are concerned about them, consult with your doctor. You can definitely find the best way to treat your tonsil stones and also prevent any future ones.

What Is The Duration of Tonsil Stones?

You can get rid of a tonsil stone very quickly if you are able to remove it at home by yourself manually. They become a problem if they are difficult to remove or continue to show up.

If you are getting tonsil stones regularly, there is no set amount of time that your condition can affect someone. Some might develop the stones once or twice over years, while others might get them many times in a week. These tonsil stones can appear as flares that last for a short time or can persist for several years.

For most individuals, practicing a good dental and oral hygiene and following their doctor’s orders for managing their tonsil stones quickly when they show up, can really help in minimizing the inconvenience that they can cause. If tonsil stones become more severe, and become a huge burden then try surgical treatment options after discussing with your doctor.

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