What are Tonsil Stones or Tonsilliths? Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

what are tonsil stones

Tonsils stones also called tonsilliths, are small clumps of whitish, odorous collections of bacteria or debris on or in the surface crevices (crypts) of the tonsils. Even though the tonsil stones may cause some discomfort, they are not dangerous and usually easy to treat.

Tonsil stones are often mistaken for food particles, but they are mostly made up of shredded epithelium. The epithelium or surface lining of the tonsil will shed and collect in the crypts of the tonsils. This debris mixes with bacteria, resulting in a low-grade sore throat and/or chronic bad breath.

When the tonsilliths fill the crypts, they can be coughed out or removed with pressure from a Q-tip or finger. After removal, unfortunately they will generally recollect within weeks to months. They can be annoying but if they occur infrequently and are only mildly symptomatic, treatment isn’t needed. However, for some people tonsilliths can be a weekly or even daily annoyance, and these patients often seek help.

Possible Causes of Tonsil Stones

  • Poor Dental Hygiene
  • Large Tonsils
  • Chronic Sinus Issues
  • Chronic Tonsillitis

Symptoms of Tonsil Stones

Some people have no symptoms when experiencing tonsil stones. Others experience redness or irritation of the tonsils, bad breath, feeling as if something is stuck in the throat. Other symptoms may include ear pain, ongoing cough and swollen tonsils. Some tonsil stones are a white, yellow or grey nodule.  Others may not be visible because they are buried in the tonsil crypts.

Treatment for Tonsil Stones

  1. One of the most common treatments is to simply scrape them with a toothbrush.
  2. Gargling with saltwater can help dislodge them as well.
  3. Using a cotton swab to express them is another option.
  4. But sometimes the tonsil stones are so deeply embedded that they need professional help.

The permanent solution for tonsilliths is removal of the tonsils or a tonsillectomy. Tonsillectomy is generally performed as an outpatient procedure under general anesthesia. Recovery from Tonsil Surgery is often quite painful. Usually the patient requires a week out of work or school. Other professional procedures include Laser tonsil cryptolysis and coblation cryptolysis.

Prevention 

  1. According to the Mayo Clinic, to prevent the formation of tonsil stones simply requires good hygiene.
  2. Brushing teeth and tongue in the morning, after meals and at bedtime.
  3. Flossing teeth daily can help remove bacteria in the mouth.
  4. Gargling daily with commercial gargles or a mix of hydrogen peroxide and water. Avoid mouthwash that contains alcohol.

These techniques can lower the number of bacteria in your mouth that may contribute to the development of these stones.

This is a common problem. They can cause a range of symptoms, but tonsil stones rarely result in serious complications. If you have frequent tonsil stones, be sure to practice good dental hygiene and stay hydrated. If they become a problem or you’re concerned about them, talk to your doctor.

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