Tonsil stones: Causes, symptoms and removal
Tonsil stones, also known as tonsilloliths, are small, hard, calcified deposits that form in the crevices of the tonsils. They are typically white or yellowish in colour and can range in size from tiny grains to larger than a pea.
Although tonsil stones are not harmful, they can cause discomfort, bad breath, and infection if left untreated. If you think you have tonsil stones, there are a few things you can do to remove them.
Find out what tonsil stones are, what causes them, the symptoms of tonsil stones, and how to remove them.
What are tonsil stones?
Our tonsils contain small crevices, tunnels and pits called tonsil crypts. Their job is to trap bacteria, germs and viruses so that your body can learn how to fight infection. Tonsils are an important player in building a healthy immune system. In some people, these crevices trap food, dead cells and other bacteria that can cause tonsil stones to form.
Most people have experienced swollen tonsils when they have a cold or flu. You might have even had tonsilitis before and noticed white veins on your tonsils. In both cases, your tonsils may appear larger, redder than usual and you may have trouble swallowing.
Tonsil stones look different to tonsilitis. Rather than white veiny marks on your tonsils, tonsil stones are small and round and may stick out from your tonsils. If you touch them, they will feel hard. Tonsil stones can be either smooth or rough in texture, and they can have a foul odor.
Causes of tonsil stones
The exact cause of tonsil stones is not entirely clear. What is known is that tonsil stones are made up of biofilm — surface-level microorganisms that can cause many types of oral diseases including periodontitis. As well as being caused by biofilm, possible causes of tonsil stones may include:
Poor oral hygiene:
Poor oral hygiene can lead to the buildup of bacteria and food particles in the mouth. This can cause food and debris to get stuck in the tonsil cavities and lead to the formation of tonsil stones.
Some people are more susceptible to developing tonsil stones than others. People with larger tonsils are more prone to developing tonsil stones because they have more crevices and pockets for debris to accumulate.
People with chronic tonsillitis, which is inflammation of the tonsils, may be more likely to develop tonsil stones. With more bacteria in the mouth, tonsil stones are more easily able to form.
Postnasal drip occurs when excess mucus from the nose drips down into the back of the throat. This mucus can contain bacteria and other debris that can contribute to the formation of tonsil stones.
A diet high in dairy and sugar may contribute to the development of tonsil stones because these foods can increase the amount of bacteria in the mouth.
The symptoms of tonsil stones
The symptoms of tonsil stones can vary from person to person. Some people may not experience any symptoms. Because stones can vary in size, it’s possible to not know you have tonsil stones at all. Common symptoms of tonsil stones include:
Tonsil stones can cause bad breath, which can be difficult to treat with regular brushing and flossing. The odor is caused by the bacteria and debris that are trapped in the tonsil stones.
Tonsil stones can cause discomfort and pain in the throat, especially when swallowing. The throat and tonsils may appear swollen, redder than usual and sore.
Larger tonsil stones can make it difficult to swallow. Some people may feel as though something is stuck in their throat.
Tonsil stones can cause ear pain or a feeling of fullness in the ear. This is because the tonsils and ears share nerve pathways.
Tonsil stones can irritate your throat and make you feel like you constantly need to cough.
Tonsil stone complications
Tonsil stones rarely lead to complications. Bacteria from within the stones can lead to bad breath, halitosis and tooth decay. Very large stones that aren’t extracted can cause damage to the tonsil tissue if the tonsils develop an infection.
Most of the time, tonsil stones can be easily removed either at home or at a dentists office and infections although rare, can be treated with anti-inflammatory drugs or antibiotics.
How to remove tonsil stones
Most of the time, tonsil stones will fall out on their own. If they’re uncomfortable, you may be able to remove them at home. Here are some of the most common methods for removing tonsil stones:
Gargling with salt water: Gargling with salt water can help to dislodge tonsil stones and reduce the amount of bacteria in the mouth. To do this, mix one teaspoon of salt in a glass of warm water and gargle for 30 seconds.
Using a cotton swab: You can try to remove tonsil stones using a cotton swab. Gently press on the tonsil area where the stone is located and try to dislodge it. Be careful not to push the stone deeper into the tonsil crevice.
Waterpik or oral irrigator: Using an oral irrigator or waterpik can be effective in dislodging and removing.
Visiting your dentist: If you can’t remove your tonsil stone and it’s causing you pain or discomfort, book an appointment with your dentist. At Gentle Dental, our friendly dentists use a light touch to put you at ease and can remove your tonsil stones with little discomfort.