What are tonsil stones and what can I do about them?

Tonsil stones are a common issue that dentists come across all the time. Sometimes, they can be unnoticed by the patient – largely due to the positioning at the back of your throat. Unless you exhibit any noticeable symptoms, you probably won’t realize you have them until you go for a dental checkup. The good news is that they don’t pose many oral health threats, but they can be rather unpleasant.

Identifying tonsil stones is highly recommended, no matter what your treatment preference. By knowing that you have them, you can take action to remove them. This stops them from growing bigger and causing more annoyances and symptoms. In this guide, we’ll explain everything you need to know about tonsil stones and how to get rid of them.

What are Tonsil Stones?

Tonsil stones are often called tonsilloliths. They are white or yellow deposits that form on or in your tonsils. They typically form due to bacteria or debris attaching to the fleshy part of your tonsils on either side of your throat. In most cases, these stones show as small white/yellow spots on your tonsils. They will usually be as small as a speck of gravel, though they can grow to much larger sizes. In their small form, they don’t cause any health complications other than some of the symptoms we’ll discuss later. However, larger tonsil stones can cause your tonsils to swell, which may lead to further problems.

As they form, tonsil stones will start off as soft deposits. The longer they stay on your tonsils, the harder they get. Luckily, these stones can be removed without resorting to drastic surgical procedures. A lot of the removal methods can be done at home, or you can visit a dentist for professional treatment.

What are the Signs & Symptoms of Tonsil Stones?

The easiest way to know if you have tonsil stones is to look for them. Get in front of a mirror and shine a light into the back of your throat. Look at the sides of your mouth, just before your throat – where the tonsils lie – to see if you spot any white or yellow spots. They can be really small, but notice anything on the tonsils, it may indicate that tiny tonsil stones are forming.

Thankfully, this may be the only sign of tonsil stones that you have! Tiny ones don’t tend to create other symptoms as they are so small. Still, you may also suffer from the following symptoms if you regularly have tonsil stones:

  • A sore throat
  • Chronic bad breath
  • Difficulty swallowing and a feeling that something is stuck in your throat
  • A slight pain in your ear that seems to travel into your throat
  • A chronic cough (it may feel like your body is trying to cough something up all the time)
  • Swollen tonsils (this only occurs in cases where the tonsil stones are excessively large)

The difficulty with diagnosing tonsil stones is that these symptoms can easily indicate other issues. If you are feeling sick or have a cold, you could easily be suffering from almost all of the symptoms above. Likewise, many people with dry mouth syndrome will have a persistent cough, difficulty swallowing, and bad breath. So, it’s best to look for these symptoms alongside any white spots on your tonsils. Likewise, if these signs are still present for weeks on end, it’s usually safe to say you have tonsil stones.

If you’re worried – or want a second opinion – there’s no harm in booking an appointment with your dentist! A quick look in your mouth will let them diagnose the issue and proceed with treatment to remove your tonsil stones, if necessary.

What Causes Tonsil Stones?

How do tonsil stones form in the back of your throat? We touched on this earlier, but these deposits form when bacteria or debris attaches to your tonsils and begins to calcify. What usually happens is that food particles get stuck to your tonsils and cause bacteria and fungi to form. This may also be exacerbated by any bacteria present in your saliva as you swallow.

A frequent myth regarding tonsil stones is that poor oral hygiene is the main cause. Clearly, we advise that everyone follows a good oral hygiene routine at all times. If you look after your mouth, you will see far fewer problems in the future. People with cavities or gum disease will have more bacteria in their mouths, potentially making it easier for these stones to form. However, the state of your oral health isn’t the key defining factor in tonsil stone formation. It can have an influence, but there is another thing to consider.

Mainly, it comes down to your tonsils themselves. Specifically, the way they are formed. Some tonsils have smooth surfaces, while others are far more irregular. In the second instance, irregular tonsils will have pockets or little craters that trap bacteria and debris inside. As a result, these things get stuck in your tonsils and will harden to form tonsil stones. It’s not uncommon for smooth tonsils to get tonsil stones, but they don’t tend to be as bad.

As you can imagine, this is rather unfortunate as you have no control over the shape of your tonsils. If you keep getting tonsil stones – even after they’ve been removed – and your oral hygiene is excellent, there’s a high chance that your tonsil shape is the problem.

How Do I Get Rid of Tonsil Stones?

If you suffer from tonsil stones, you should do two things: remove them and prevent them from coming back. In this section, we’ll focus on removing the tonsil stones as safely as possible.

Gargling

In many cases, gargling a saltwater solution can get rid of your tonsil stones. This is most effective when the stones are small and have only just started to form. Gargle for as long as you can, then spit the solution out. Check your mouth in a mirror to see if the stones have gone. Everyone should start with this method as it’s the easiest and least uncomfortable one to attempt on your own. Plus, the salt in the water can ease a sore throat and improve the ph balance in your mouth.

Physically Removing The Stones Yourself

If gargling doesn’t work, you can attempt to remove the stones using different tools. Some people will use their fingers, but this can be quite unhygienic and unsafe. This method is not recommended. Instead, you may prefer using a cotton swab, provided it is clean and unused. The soft tip can push the stones out of your tonsils where you can spit them out of your mouth.

This technique may work for some, but it’s not ideal if you have a weak gag reflex. Instead, you could use a water flosser to remove the stones. This is a tool you can buy online, and it is mainly used to floss between your teeth. It produces a stream of water that can get rid of debris – think of it as a mini jet wash for your mouth! By angling the water flosser at your tonsils, you can spray the solution directly on the tonsil stones. This helps to dislodge them from any crevices, completely removing them.

Now, the physical removal options can be done from the comfort of your home. Nevertheless, it might be wise to visit a dentist if you’ve never done this before. The risks of hurting yourself are low when you choose the techniques listed above. Still, it’s much safer when a professional handles this for you. Most dentists will either use a special tool to poke the stones out or a water flosser.

Furthermore, remember that tonsils stones don’t have to be removed. If they cause you no symptoms and you can’t feel them, you have nothing to worry about. They may fall out of their own accord as you eat, drink, or cough. The removal is only necessary if they cause any discomfort.

What if I Keep Getting Tonsil Stones?

Some people will keep getting tonsil stones even after they’ve been removed. This might not be a problem, and you may see improvements if you follow an oral hygiene routine. Still, chronic tonsil stones can cause issues as they might increase the likelihood of tonsillitis. As you’re probably aware, this is a condition that causes our tonsils to swell up and leads to an incredibly sore throat. Tonsillitis is worse in adulthood, and you will find it difficult to eat or drink anything. It can be treated with antibiotics, but consistent tonsillitis is a problem.

For this reason, your dentist may recommend a tonsillectomy if you keep getting tonsil stones. Of course, this is only necessary if the stones cause tonsillitis. With this surgery, your tonsils will be removed from your mouth, which will stop tonsil stones from forming. It is not the ideal treatment method for this problem, but it may be your only option if you keep suffering from tonsillitis.

Secondly, you may have to undergo a procedure known as cryptolysis. Different types of cryptolysis exist, but they serve the same purpose: to smooth out your tonsils. This surgery will eliminate the pockets and craters in irregular tonsils, making it harder for stones to form. It’s less extreme than a tonsillectomy, but most dentists won’t recommend it unless your tonsils stones are severely impacting your life.

How To Prevent Tonsil Stones

Don’t assume that surgery is your only option if you keep getting tonsil stones. Instead, you should take steps to prevent them from forming over and over again. As you can predict, the preventative measures mainly revolve around following a good oral hygiene routine to improve your oral health.

We’ve picked out three of the best tips that will help you prevent tonsil stones:

 

Brush your teeth & tongue every day

Brushing your teeth removes all of the bacteria that collects after a day of eating. You should also floss between your teeth to get rid of any food particles lodged between them. It decreases the likelihood of any debris or bacteria attaching to your tonsils. Similarly, don’t forget to brush the back of your tongue! This is a breeding ground for bacteria, and the close proximity to your tonsils puts them at risk.

Use Mouthwash Between Meals

Wait 30 minutes after eating and use a mouthwash solution. You can make this yourself with saltwater or choose from any of the mouthwash products on the market. The benefit of this is that your mouthwash will kill the bacteria in your mouth and help you dislodge any debris. You can gargle with it as well, which removes any deposits on your tonsils. It’s a smart way of keeping your mouth fresh and free from bacteria throughout the day!

Drink Plenty Of Water

Water is vital for your oral health. It helps to maintain a ph balance in your mouth, while also acting as a way of washing away bacteria and debris. Plus, it prevents dry mouth syndrome, which is known to create the perfect conditions for bacteria to form.

Bad oral health won’t cause tonsil stones on its own. However, it is definitely a risk factor. The only way to deal with irregular tonsils is to remove them or get them smoothed out. If you want to avoid surgery, you should focus on more controllable risk factors. These three tips form the basis of a successful oral hygiene routine, improving your oral health, and lowering the risk of tonsil stones.

 

Conclusion

To summarize, tonsil stones are small formations caused by bacteria and debris on your tonsils. They can calcify and grow in size, causing potential complications for your tonsils. However, most instances are nothing to worry about as they only cause minor issues – like bad breath, a sore throat, etc. You can remove tonsil stones at home or visit a dentist for professional tonsil stone treatment. A good oral hygiene routine is essential to stop them from re-forming, while surgery is seen as a last resort.

If you need any advice on tonsil stones – or would like tonsil stone treatment – feel free to contact Patient Empowered Dentistry today. We’ll book you in for an appointment at our dental office to address the problem and find the best solution!

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