Tonsils are a pair of soft tissues present just at the back of the throat. They are a part of the lymphatic system, which helps in fighting infections. They work round the clock to protect us from harmful microorganisms. They can vary in size and also swell in response to any type of infection.
Fact about tonsils
Tonsils achieve their largest size until puberty and afterward, they decrease in size. Their size is generally bigger in young children as compared to the overall diameter of the throat.
Function of tonsils
Tonsils are the first line of defense in fighting against pathogens that have been ingested by a person. Tonsils possess three types of cells that can help in identifying the pathogen, and then, later on, help in the stimulation or production of antibodies to fight the ingested harmful elements.
These cells are called M cells, B cells, and T cells. M cells are present on the surface of the tonsils. They act as doctors who help diagnose or identify specific antigens (toxins) released by the pathogens. They alert the B and T cells that toxins have been detected, and in response, the immune system gets stimulated.
After the stimulation, antibodies are produced, which helps in destroying the pathogen.
What is a tonsil stone?
People generally believe that stones can only be formed in the kidneys and gallbladder. However, stones can also occur in the tonsils. A tonsil stone or tonsillolith is a material that gets calcified in the tonsil. Its size can vary from a size of a rice grain to pea-sized.
Tonsils consist of tunnels and crypts, which are meant to enclose harmful microorganisms. These areas sometimes get occupied by dead cells, mucus, saliva, and food particles, and their accumulation over time leads to their calcification and hardness. In such way, tonsil stones are formed.
Some people can have one stone while others can have multiple stones. They generally do not lead to any health complications, but in advanced case, they can grow into bigger sizes leading to the swelling of tonsils.
People usually do not realize that they have tonsil stones. The main compound present in the stone is mostly calcium, but the unpleasant odor is a resultant of hydrogen sulfide and other chemicals.
Symptoms of tonsil stones
Most of the time, they do not produce any symptoms. But when they undergo any variation in their size, they do affect the normal functioning of the mouth, thereby leading to multiple symptoms such as:
- Halitosis (bad breath) - The presence of tonsil stones is usually accompanied by bad breath as they are crawling with anaerobic bacteria. Halitosis is more common in patients who are having a higher concentration of volatile sulfur compounds in their mouth.
- Sore throat - Tonsil stones can cause pain and discomfort in the throat. Your throat might feel itchy and irritated, especially if it is accompanied with tonsillitis, which is the inflammation of the tonsils.
- Ear pain - Your ears, nose, and throat are interconnected by several nerves. When you have tonsil stones, they may sometimes cause pain in your ears.
- Respiratory discomfort - Swelling caused by tonsil stones in advanced cases can interfere with your normal breathing. Thus, tonsil stones can cause respiratory discomfort and can prove to be fatal.
- Difficulty in swallowing - Tonsil stones can sometimes cause pain and difficulty while ingesting food or drinks.
What causes tonsil stones?
Tonsils stones are basically caused by sulfur-producing bacteria. This bacterium gets accumulated in the tonsils along with the debris of mucus and food particles. This matter gets into the decaying procedure and remains collected in the tonsils. The affected area further attracts debris and later on gets calcified. It can lead to the formation of a single large stone or multiple small stones.
Large tonsil stones are quite rare compared with the smaller ones. Tonsil stones are prevalent in people who suffer from repeated tonsillitis.
Facts related to the causes of tonsil stones:
- According to surveys conducted by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), 75 percent of the people who had high amounts of sulfur in their mouth had tonsil stones.
- The prevalence rate of tonsil stones in the United States is 6-10 percent every year. The commonly affected individuals are between the age of 20 and 40.
- At present, doctors have removed tonsil stones weighing from 0.1-1.5 ounces.
There are several factors that can increase an individual's chances of getting tonsil stones, and they include:
- Accumulation of dead white blood cells (WBCs)
- Overactivity of the salivary glands
- Consumption of alcohol and excessive intake of processed food
- Postnasal drip
- Dry mouth
- Sinus infections
- Hereditary factors such as the size and depth of tonsil pockets
- Recurrent tonsil infections
- Other bacterial infections
What should you do if you're coughing up tonsil stones?
The strong odor coming from your mouth ensures the possibility of having tonsil stones. If you cough up white chunks, you must take immediate actions as follows:
- Take a mirror and see whether you can find white spots on your tonsils. If you see such spots, then you must brush up the tonsils and remove it. You can opt for various home remedies as well as medical treatment if you think that your condition is already out of your control.
- In cases where you do not see any white spots on your tonsils, then you are considered to be pretty much safe. However, you must start adopting preventive measures to avoid the formation of future tonsil stones. Take each and every oral hygiene measure into consideration.
- Start taking vitamin C and sulfur, as sometimes, their deficiency alone can cause the formation of tonsil stones. Fruits and vegetables that are rich in vitamin C should be consumed.
How to get rid of tonsil stones?
There are various methods by which you can get rid of tonsil stones. They include:
- Removal of tonsils (tonsillectomy) - The surgical removal of tonsils removes the scope of formation of tonsil stones. People who are having recurrent tonsil infections should opt for this method.
- Good oral hygiene - As tonsil stones are the offshoots of bacteria, dead cells, and food particles, it gets necessary to maintain good oral hygiene in such circumstances. Brushing, regular teeth flossing, and tongue scraping must be carried out to minimize the accumulation of bacteria.
- Quit smoking - Smoking significantly affects oral hygiene as it helps plaque and tartar buildup on the teeth. The bacteria from this buildup can migrate to the tonsils and increase the chances of tonsil stone formation.
- Personal hygiene - Make sure to clean your hands before eating or drinking. Avoid oral contact with your partner if you have tonsillitis to avoid spreading the infection to another person. Oral contact can further increase the risk of contracting the development of tonsil stones.
- Antibiotics - Antibiotics are used to treat bacterial infections. They can help in getting rid of bacteria, which have a major role in the formation and growth of tonsil stones.
How to remove tonsil stones
Tonsil stones can sometimes cause pain and discomfort. There are several treatment methods for tonsils stones. They include both home remedies and medical procedures. You can choose any of the following methods depending on the severity of your condition.
- Saline gargles - The pain and discomfort caused by tonsil stones can be alleviated by salt water gargles. It acts as an antiseptic medium. On vigorous rinsing, it can sometimes dislodge the stones. However, try not to swallow the water while gargling.
- Warm herbal teas - Herbal teas such as peppermint, chamomile, and other herbs tend to reduce the swelling of your tonsils after consumption. They provide antiseptic substances, which are unfavorable to the bacteria that cause the infection and stones.
- At home - Some people ask how to remove tonsil stones at home. You can remove them by using the tip of your tongue or by utilizing cotton swabs. However, do not apply too much force if they are not coming out easily.
- Eat vegetables - Adding crisp vegetables in your diet such as cucumber, carrot, and cabbage can dislodge the stones from their place and make you cough them out.
- Be hydrated - Drink water regularly as it keeps the body hydrated and helps in cleaning up the debris and other unwanted substances in the oral cavity. It also prevents the accumulation of substances that help in the formation of tonsil stones.
- Use cotton swabs - Wet cotton swabs should be used gently on the tonsils. Stand in front of the mirror and locate the stones under a good amount of light. Gently dislodge them, and once you are done, thoroughly rinse your mouth using mouthwash or salt water.
- Eat raw garlic - Garlic possesses antibacterial properties. Simply chew a few cloves of garlic every day to help kill the bacteria responsible for tonsil stone formation.
- Yogurt - Unsweetened yogurt is a good remedy for treating tonsil stones at home. It possesses a good amount of probiotics, which help protect the oral cavity against harmful bacteria. It also prohibits the occurrence of tonsil stones as it cleans off the harmful bacteria from the body and in the oral cavity.
- Lime juice - Drinking lime juice on a regular basis can clean and remove bacteria that can cause tonsil stones. It possesses several medicinal properties and it should be taken slowly, so that it gets in contact with the tonsil stones closely.
How to get tonsil stones out
If you do not achieve success by applying the home remedies, then you can go for the following medical procedures:
1) Laser tonsil cryptolysis
This type of treatment uses laser and does not include any cutting or stitches. It helps in the removal of stone-filled pockets. Although the procedure does not cause tremendous pain, it is still done under local anesthesia.
2) Coblation cryptolysis
In this procedure, electrical energy is used. This procedure is generally used in cases where the entire surface area of the tonsil needs to be treated. It holds a success rate of 80 percent and is also much more efficient than laser cryptolysis, which can cause recurrence and burning sensations on the tonsils. Coblation does not include any of these problems.
Tonsil stone removal tools
There are several tonsil stone removal tools available in the market, which can answer the question, “How to get tonsil stones out?” They are:
- Airgoesin Lighted Tonsil Stone Removing Tool - This tool comes up with three attachment heads and a LED light, which is meant for providing a better visual. It is the best tonsil stone removal tool and it promises to gently remove the stones without causing any harm.
- Tonsil Stone Removal Kit by TheraBreath - This kit ensures to remove tonsil stones and prevent its recurrence. It includes two oral rinses, one toothpaste, three sprays, three nasal sinus drops, and a set of instructions.
- Tonsil Light - In this product, there are three tonsil tool adapters and batteries. A stainless steel tip is also present in this kit, which can be sterilized after each and every use. It also includes an irrigation syringe and a carrying case for holding the LED light. The irrigation syringe in this kit can be filled with water or mouthwash to irrigate the tonsils.
- h2ofloss® Oral Irrigator - This tool has twelve multifunctional tips, which can be used on several tissues. The operating frequency of this tool is 1,200 pulses per minute, which is considered as the suitable frequency by most researchers.
Misconceptions about tonsil stones
- Some people say that having dairy products in one's meal can lead to the formation of tonsil stones. Clearly, this notion is not true.
- Once tonsil stones are removed they will not appear again. Tonsil stones can reappear even after their removal. The major factor responsible for their recurrence is the failure to eliminate the causative agent of infection.
- Tonsils are thought to be popcorn kernels stuck in the tonsil pockets.