What are tonsil stones? – Treatment and Prevention

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As the name suggests, tonsil stones or tonsilloliths or tonsil calculi are small stones that are formed on the tonsil. They are generally formed when food particles, dead cells or debris of other substances get entrapped on the tonsils. Tonsil stones can cause bad breath as the debris which gets stuck in these pockets and build-up, bacteria and fungi feed on this and cause a distinct odor. Gradually with time, the debris hardens into tonsil stones.

Tonsil stones appear as a white or yellowish hard mass, varying from small to very large. They can become a home for bacteria and may have an unpleasant smell. Hence, it is important to recognize one when it is forming so that it can be curbed in its initial stage.

Various things can trigger the formation of tonsil stones. Some of the potential causes of tonsil stones include:

  • Poor dental hygiene
  • Large tonsils
  • Chronic sinus issues

Sometimes people are unable to realize the formation of tonsil stones. To make it easier for people to understand whether they are suffering from tonsil stones or not, they should look for the following telltale symptoms:

  • Mouth starts to emit bad odor when tonsil stones appear.
  • There is always a sensation that something is stuck in the mouth or in the back of the throat.
  • There is often a feeling of pressure or pain in the ears.

Tonsil stones although are mostly harmless, still cause discomfort. People who do not maintain a healthy oral hygiene and do not brush their teeth or floss regularly are more vulnerable to tonsil stones.

There are various treatment procedures that one can do in their own homes. Following are certain pointers for tonsil stones removal at home:

  1. Low-pressure water irrigator – Low-pressure water irrigator can help loosen tonsil stones. This is done while standing in front of a well-lit toilet mirror and aim the water flosser toward the tonsil stones. However, it should be done carefully as once the stone gets freed it might fall toward the back of the throat and cause coughing and choking.
  2. Mouthwash – Nonalcoholic mouthwash is very useful in preventing the formation of tonsil stones. Gently swishing a nonalcoholic mouthwash around the mouth can help loosen the tonsil stones and also prevent it along with reducing the number of bacteria in the mouth.
  3. Gargling – Saltwater gargle is very simple to do. One can add a teaspoon of salt into a cup of warm water and mix it well. This liquid is gargled for about 10-15 seconds. It not only helps with loosening the tonsil stones but also relieve a sore throat. Gargling with apple cider vinegar may also be beneficial. It helps in breaking down the materials in the tonsil stones. It can be made by mixing 1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar with 1 cup of warm water and gargle. If this drink is gargled thrice a day it may help in loosening the stones gradually.
  4. Cotton swabs – This should be done under doctor supervision and never should be conducted on kids. A person should talk to their doctors before they try to do this. It is done by first slightly dampening the swab and inserting it toward the back of the throat to swipe the stones away. It is important to avoid the middle portion of the throat as it can lead to a gag reflex. Since there are lots of blood vessels surrounding the tonsils it is important to stop the procedure if bleeding occurs.
  5. Toothbrush – Toothbrush can also be used where they flip the brush over and use the non-bristled side to gently try to free the tonsil stone from the back of the throat. It is very important to brush the tongue as well as the teeth to reduce the amount of excess bacteria in the mouth and prevent future tonsil stones from developing.

Along with home remedies, there are other ways to treat tonsil stones, but this requires the person to visit an experienced doctor. Minor surgical procedures may be recommended if the tonsil stones become particularly large or cause pain or persistent symptoms:-

  1. Laser tonsil cryptolysis – In this procedure, a laser is used to eliminate the crypts where tonsil stones are lodged. This procedure needs to be performed under local anesthesia. This procedure hardly causes any discomfort and recovery time is very minimal.
  2. Tonsillectomy – Tonsillectomy is a surgery done to remove the tonsils. The procedure is done by using a scalpel or laser. However, this surgery is preferred by doctors only when all the other methods have failed and when the condition is severe and chronic.
  3. Coblation cryptolysis – This is a type of surgery that requires no heat. Instead of heat, radio waves are used which transform a salt solution into charged ions. These ions have the ability to cut through tissue. This method reduces tonsil crypts but without the same burning sensation.

These are certain medical treatments that can be done under a professional doctor.

Tonsil stones may not be very harmful, but it can cause a lot of discomfort. It is thus important to maintain healthy oral health.