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

Tonsil stones are a common issue that dentists see frequently. Often they can be unnoticed by the patient – primarily 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. Still, tonsil stones may 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. In addition, removing the tonsil stones will stop 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 treat tonsil stones.

What are Tonsil Stones?

Tonsil stones are often called tonsilloliths. They are deposits that form on or in your tonsils or the back of the throat.

Typically tonsil stones 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 or yellow spots. They will usually be as small as a speck of gravel, though they can grow to much larger sizes.

In their most miniature form, tonsil stones don’t cause any problems with a person’s health and wellness. However, larger tonsil stones can cause your tonsils to swell, which may lead to further problems. In addition, people with tonsil stones often end up with ear pain and discomfort that may lead them to an ear, nose, and throat doctor.

As they form, tonsil stones will start as soft deposits. The longer they stay on your tonsils, the harder they get. The calcification is due to the persistent bacterial infestation and the body’s immune system. White blood cells will invade the stone in an attempt to neutralize the bacteria. This is how a soft deposit becomes calcified.

As long as tonsilloliths remain in the back of the throat, tonsil stones may continue worsening until you remove them manually, or they are medically reviewed, steps are taken to dislodge tonsil stones.

Luckily, a doctor or even you can remove these stones without resorting to drastic surgical procedures. There are many home remedies to remove the stones, or you can visit a doctor 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 and the back of the throat to see if you spot any white or yellow spots. They can be tiny. Noticing any irregular spots on the tonsils may indicate that small tonsil stones are forming.

Thankfully, this may be the only sign of tonsil stones that you have! Small stones often don’t tend to create other symptoms. They usually are too small to notice any discomfort at all, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t causing your bad breath!

Still, you may suffer from a symptom or two you regularly have tonsilloliths. Symptoms of tonsil stones include:

-Throat discomfort

-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 tonsil infection

-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. For example, if you feel sick or have a cold, you could 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. It’s best to look for these symptoms only if white spots accompany them on your tonsils. However, if a combination of these signs is still present for weeks on end, it’s usually safe to say you have tonsil stones.

If you’re worried – or want advice, diagnosis, or treatment – 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 get rid of tonsil stones, if necessary.

What Causes Tonsil Stones?

How do tonsil stones form?

We touched on this earlier, but let’s reiterate. 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 dental hygiene is the leading cause. First, of course, we advise that everyone follows an excellent oral hygiene routine at all times. It would be best if you took care to brush, floss, and use a saltwater gargle frequently, whether to treat tonsil stones or prevent tonsil stones. However, no proof lies in the data that a tonsil stone is the cause of poor dental hygiene. 

People with cavities or gum disease will have more bacteria in their mouths, potentially making it easier for a tonsil stone to form. However, the state of your oral health isn’t the critical defining factor in tonsil stone formation. It can have an influence, but there is one major thing to consider.

Mainly, it comes down to your tonsils themselves. Specifically, the way they are formed.

Some tonsils have smooth surfaces, while some others are far more irregular. In the second instance, irregular tonsils will have pockets or tiny craters that trap bacteria and debris inside. As a result, what debris gets stuck in your tonsils will harden to form tonsil stones. These craters are sometimes referred to as tonsil crypts.

It’s not uncommon for smooth tonsils to get tonsil stones, but they don’t tend to be as bad and rarely recurring.

As you can imagine, this is rather unfortunate as you have no control over the shape of your tonsils! However, suppose you keep getting tonsil stones – even after they’ve been removed – and your dental hygiene is excellent. In that case, 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. However, salt water solutions are 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 unclean and unsafe. Therefore, this method is not recommended. Instead, you may prefer using a cotton swab, provided it is clean and unused. In addition, 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 pick to remove the stones. A water flosser 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 tool helps to dislodge them from any crevices, completely removing them!

Now, you can do the physical removal from the comfort of your home. Nevertheless, a visit with your dentist for a checkup might be wise if you’ve never had tonsil stones 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 use a unique tool to poke the stones out; they may also use a water pick or water flosser.

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 you discomfort.

What if I Keep Getting Tonsil Stones?

Some people will keep getting tonsil stones even after being removed, which might not be a problem. Still, you may see improvements if you follow a set 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 than in children. You will most likely find it difficult to eat or drink anything. Tonsillitis can treat it with antibiotics, but consistent tonsillitis is a problem.

Tonsillectomy –

Your dentist may recommend a tonsillectomy if you keep getting tonsil stones. But, of course, this is only necessary if the stones cause recurring tonsillitis.

With this surgery, a doctor will remove your tonsils from your mouth, which will stop tonsil stones from forming. It is not the ideal treatment method for this problem. Still, it may be your only option if you keep suffering from tonsillitis.

Secondly, you may have to undergo a procedure known as cryptolysis.

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 severely impact 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 four of the best tips that will help you prevent tonsil stones:

Brush your teeth every day

Brushing your teeth removes the bacteria that collects after a day of eating. It would be best if you also flossed between your teeth to get rid of any food particles lodged between them. In addition, it decreases the likelihood of any debris or bacteria attaching to your tonsils.

Brush your tongue every day

Similarly, don’t forget to brush the back of your tongue! The tongue 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 an intelligent way of keeping your mouth fresh and free from bacteria throughout the day!

Drink Plenty Of Water

Water is vital for your oral health!

Keeping hydrated will help maintain a proper PH balance in your mouth while also acting to wash away bacteria and debris. It also prevents dry mouth syndrome, which creates the perfect conditions for bacteria to form.

Bad oral health won’t cause tonsil stones on its own. However, it is a risk factor. The only way to deal with irregular tonsils is to remove them or get them smoothed out. So if you want to avoid surgery, you should focus on more controllable risk factors.

These four 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, in most instances, they are nothing to worry about as they only cause minor issues such as 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 how to get rid of tonsil stones – or would like tonsil stone treatment – feel free to contact Patient Empowered Dentistry today. We will set you up for an appointment at our dental office to address the problem and find the best solution!

Patient Empowered Dentistry