Tonsil stones, also known as tonsilloliths, are hard calcium deposits that form in the crevices of your tonsils. They can range in size from tiny grains of sand to as large as a pea and can cause symptoms such as sore throat, bad breath, and even difficulty swallowing. If you’re dealing with tonsil stones, you’re likely looking for safe and effective remedies to get rid of them.
What Are Tonsil Stones?
Tonsil stones can be found on either side of the throat and range in size from barely visible to pea-sized. Tonsil stones typically appear as white or yellowish-white clusters in the tonsil crypts or craters across the surface of your tonsils. These crypts typically develop because of recurring infections or inflammation, resulting in scar tissue.
Tonsil stones may have a foul smell and can cause discomfort or a feeling of tightness in the throat. In some cases, they can become so large that they partially obstruct the airways, making it difficult to swallow or breathe. Although harmless, tonsil stones should be addressed for the comfort and health of the individual.
Causes of Tonsil Stones
Tonsil stones are calcified deposits of debris and bacteria that form across the pitted surfaces of the tonsils.
The exact cause of these stones is not known, however, some factors may increase how often some people get them.
For instance, individuals who suffer from chronic inflammation, recurring strep throat, severe allergies and drainage, or infection of the tonsils are more likely to get tonsil stones than people who do not. Dehydration can also increase the likelihood of tonsil stones forming, as saliva helps to flush out debris throughout the day.
Poor oral hygiene and infrequent brushing can also contribute to their formation. Additionally, some people may be more prone to getting tonsil stones than others due to anatomical differences in the tonsils, such as the "crypts" already mentioned above.
Tonsil Stone Symptoms
The most common symptoms of tonsil stones include:
Bad breath (halitosis):
Tonsil stones often have an unpleasant odor, which can cause bad breath or even a bad taste in your mouth.
Tonsil stones can cause soreness, inflammation, and a feeling of something being stuck in the throat.
This referred pain can occur when the tonsils become infected or inflamed from the presence of tonsil stones, because of the close proximity to your ear(s).
A sore throat is one of the most common symptoms and can be accompanied by difficulty swallowing.
Swollen lymph nodes
Tonsils are lymph nodes, and they--along with neighboring lymph nodes--may become swollen due to the presence of tonsil stones and bacteria.
A visible lump in the back of the throat
Sometimes, tonsil stones can be seen with the naked eye. They usually appear as a white or yellowish spot on the tonsil or at the back of the throat.
Safe and Effective Remedies for Tonsil Stone Removal
Rinsing with warm salt water can help to loosen the tonsil stones, making them easier to remove. Simply mix a full or half a teaspoon of salt in a glass of warm water and gargle for a few minutes.
Using an oral irrigator or "water flosser" it may be possible to flush out the tonsil stones. Good oral hygiene can help eliminate tonsil stones and prevent a new tonsil stone from forming in its place.
Gently massage the area to help to dislodge the tonsil stones. You can use a cotton swab or your finger to massage the area to help loosen stones. Many tonsil stones can be removed in this way, but large tonsil stones may be more difficult to dislodge.
Apple Cider Vinegar
Rinse with apple cider vinegar or apply it to the soft tissue calcifications with a cotton swab. Try to avoid extensive contact with your teeth due to the acidity of the vinegar.
Using an alcohol-free, antibacterial mouthwash can help to reduce the growth of bacteria in the tonsils and prevent future tonsil stones from forming.
If you're unable to treat tonsil stones on your own, your dentist or ENT can remove the calcified buildup for you. Laser tonsil cryptolysis is another professional treatment option that can help get rid of tonsil stones and help prevent tonsil stones from forming.
In some cases, surgery may be necessary to remove tonsil stones. A tonsillectomy is a surgical procedure to remove the tonsils. This is usually only considered as a last resort when all other options have failed.
Prevention of Tonsil Stones
Tonsil stones are made up of accumulations of bacteria, dead cells, and other debris that can collect in the crevices of your tonsils. By understanding how they form, it's possible to prevent them from occurring or at least reduce how often you get them.
The best way to prevent tonsil stones is by practicing good oral hygiene. Brushing your teeth twice a day with fluoride toothpaste and flossing at least once daily can help prevent bacteria from accumulating in your mouth.
You should also brush the back of your tongue, which can help remove debris and food particles that can lead to tonsil stones. Additionally, gargling with an antiseptic mouthwash can help kill germs that could cause tonsil stones.
Some people believe that drinking lemon water may help with preventing tonsil stones, similar to kidney stones. However, recurring acid exposure can lead to enamel erosion and other dental complications.
Finally, staying hydrated is key to preventing tonsil stones. Drinking plenty of water each day helps flush out the bacteria and food debris that can accumulate in your tonsils.
How are tonsil stones treated?
Most recurring tonsil stones are physically removed. If tonsil stones persist, your doctor may recommend removing your tonsils.
What are tonsillar crypts?
Tonsillar crypts are the crater like openings across the surface of scarred tonsil tissues.
Is it safe to dislodge tonsil stones on my own?
Some people have no problem getting rid of tonsil stones by themselves. But be careful not to use a sharp object such as your fingernail, as it could lead to a tonsil infection.
How are tonsil stones removed?
Most tonsil stones can be removed with a cotton swab or gargling with salt water. But sometimes you will need to have a professional remove tonsil stones, especially if they are severe or you have inflamed tonsils.
When to See a Doctor
Tonsil stones can often be removed at home, but there are certain circumstances when it’s important to see a doctor or dentist for help. If you experience any of the following, it’s time to make an appointment:
1. Persistent pain
If the tonsil stones keep causing pain or irritation, even after you’ve tried various home remedies, it may be time to seek professional help.
2. Difficulty swallowing
If the tonsil stones are so large that they’re causing difficulty when you swallow, it’s a good idea to see an expert.
3. Breathing problems
If the tonsil stones become too large and cause difficulty with breathing, then it’s important to seek medical attention right away.
4. Chronic tonsil stones
If the tonsil stones keep coming back or become an ongoing problem, then it’s important to get professional advice.
5. Recurring infections
If you find that you get frequent tonsillitis or other infections in the area of your tonsils, then it’s important to seek medical attention or even discuss having your tonsils removed.
Manual Removal May Not Always Be Best
If you’re concerned about any of these symptoms and think they could be related to tonsil stones, don’t hesitate to make an appointment with your doctor or dentist. They can provide the right advice and treatment to help you get rid of the stones and avoid any potential complications.