Tonsil stones, or tonsilloliths, are hard white or yellow formations that are located on or within the tonsils. It’s very common for people with tonsil stones to not even realize they have them. Moreover, tonsil stones aren’t always easy to see and they can range from rice-sized to the size of a large grape. Tonsil stones rarely cause larger health complications. However, sometimes they can grow into larger formations that can cause your tonsils to swell, and they often have an unpleasant odor. Here is what you need to know.
What Causes Tonsil Stones?
Tonsils are filled with nooks and crannies where bacteria and other materials, including dead cells and mucous, can become trapped. If this happens, the debris can become concentrated in white formations that occur in the pockets. Tonsil stones, or tonsilloliths, are formed when this trapped debris hardens, or calcifies. This happens most often in people who have chronic inflammation in their tonsils or repeated bouts of tonsillitis. While many people have small tonsilloliths that develop in their tonsils, it is quite rare to have a large and solidified tonsil stone.
Some causes of tonsil stones include:
- poor dental hygiene
- large tonsils
- chronic sinus issues
- chronic tonsillitis
Symptoms of tonsil stones
Although some tonsil stones may be difficult to see, they can still cause noticeable symptoms. Symptoms of tonsil stones can include:
Tonsil stones can be treated at home. They often detach during vigorous gargling. However, if you see tonsil stones in the back of your throat but do not have any symptoms, you do not have to remove them. Furthermore, you can use a cotton swab to loosen the stone and gently press on the tissue immediately surrounding it. You should position the swab behind the stone and push forward, pushing the tonsil stone toward the front of the mouth instead of into the throat. Be careful not to push too hard, as you risk injuring the back of your throat. Do not use your finger or anything pointed or sharp. If tonsil stones hurt or make it difficult to swallow, you can try gargling with warm salt water.
Tonsil stones are mostly harmless, even when they cause discomfort. They may, however, signal problems with oral hygiene. People who do not brush their teeth or floss regularly are more vulnerable to tonsil stones. The bacteria that cause tonsil stones can also cause tooth decay, gum disease, and oral infections. Sometimes, tonsil stones can become a breeding ground for bacteria. One study has found that tonsil stones are similar to the dental plaque that causes cavities and gum disease.
Preventing Tonsil Stones
If you have tonsil stones, they may occur on a regular basis. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to prevent them. These steps include:
- practicing good oral hygiene, including cleaning the bacteria off the back of your tongue when you brush your teeth
- stopping to smoke
- gargling with salt water
- drinking plenty of water to stay hydrated
Tonsil stones are a common problem. Though they can bring a range of symptoms, tonsil stones rarely result in serious complications. In case 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. Together you can determine the best way to treat your tonsil stones and prevent future ones.