Did you know that tonsils can be problematic? Particularly for breathing in early childhood, which is why many doctors recommend that the child have them removed. These two oval-shaped lymph nodes hanging out at the back of the throat work as a defense mechanism to prevent oral infections. They are supposed to disappear for adults.
However, for those who carry their tonsils into adulthood, they are often the bringers of tonsil stones.
What Are Tonsil Stones?
Tonsil stones, also known as tonsilloliths, are made from tiny bits of calcified masses which are a combination of food particles, bacteria, mucus, and dead skin. They take root in the dips and valleys of your tonsils and then form into hard little yellow or white “balls”. If you look into a mirror and open wide, you can see them in the back of your mouth at the entryway to your throat (unless they’ve grown too deep, then your mirror can’t help).
Of course, some people don’t even notice them, and that’s fine. They can be as tiny as a speck of rice, but they do often grow and can smell really, really bad. Which could be another reason for chronic bad breath.
If they get too enlarged, they can even make your tonsils swell. Tonsil stones can feel uncomfortable for some people and even be painful. They may create the sensation of something stuck in the back of your throat, ear pain, a sore throat, or even difficulty swallowing.
Where Do Tonsil Stones Come From?
Your tonsil’s job is to prevent oral bacteria from spreading from your mouth to your throat while helping out your immune system as they hold onto bacteria while filtering germs from the mouth— keeping them from going down your throat and into your body. While the cause of tonsil stones seems to still be up for debate, most professionals believe that oral bacteria is a major contributing factor.
Thusly, a common factor of tonsil stones is poor oral hygiene (not brushing and flossing properly and regularly) because not removing harmful oral bacteria every day can not only lead to tooth decay and gum disease but, you guessed it, stinky tonsil stones!
Of course, it’s not always poor oral hygiene that causes tonsil stones. If you’ve ever had problems with your sinuses, you know how much mucus can be secreted, and unfortunately, this can sometimes lead to a build-up of tonsil stones.
Additionally, when the tonsils are large they have a greater chance of catching food particles, bacteria, and mucus thus creating a greater buildup of the stones in the pockets.
Tonsil Stones Symptoms
You’ll probably have tonsil stones if your tonsils are large and you have any of these symptoms:
- Your tonsil glands are swollen
- It hurts to swallow
- You have a sore throat
- You have a bad taste in your mouth
- You have chronic bad breath (that’s not a result of periodontal disease)
- You see white or yellow stuff at the back of your throat when you check in a mirror
- You have an earache
Keeping Tonsil Stones Away
Let’s first go over how you may be able to avoid getting tonsil stones in the first place. Probably the easiest way to avoid them is to keep bacteria from thriving in your mouth and building up on your tonsils!
- Brush at least twice a day and flossing at least once. If you are cavity-prone, maybe try brushing after each meal, and consider getting a good electric toothbrush like Sonicare that cleans your teeth thoroughly.
- You can use an antibacterial toothpaste or antibacterial mouth wash to cut down on germs. If you prefer more natural rinses, simple saltwater does the job well!
- Oral bacteria like to congregate on the tongue as well as teeth and gums, so be sure to scrape your tongue once a day!
- See our dental team at least twice a year to disrupt the bacterial colonies and get rid of more advanced bacteria (like hardened plaque, aka tartar). By seeing us regularly we can address any oral issues you might be experiencing before you get bigger problems.
- Stay well hydrated since healthy saliva levels work hard to wash away bacteria and food particles.
- Treat your allergies. If you suffer from post-nasal drip, that is a lot of mucus going down the back of your throat and increasing your chances of getting tonsil stones.
Getting Rid of Tonsil Stones
While tonsil stones can often just resolve themselves, if you find yourself with symptoms like those above, then you may need to take action.
In addition to creating a stellar at-home oral health routine, there may be a few other things that you can try on your own before you seek professional help:
- Try gargling with some salt mixed into water and then rinsing well. Use 1 teaspoon of salt to 8 ounces of water.
- Use a HydroFloss at the back of the throat to help dislodge the stones.
- You could use a cotton swab by gently pressing on the tissue immediately surrounding the tonsil stone. Try to position the swab behind the stone and push forward. In other words, try to push the tonsil stone toward the front of your mouth instead of into your throat. Be careful when you do this. Do not use your finger nail or anything sharp because you’ll be risking injuring the back of your throat.
Professional Treatment Options
When at-home attempts are not as effective as you need them to be, then it is advisable to seek help from a professional. Typically an ENT (ear-nose-throat) doctor can help you. They may recommend things like:
- Antibiotics: These can help reduce bacterial development.
- Laser Tonsil Cryptolysis: Using a laser, this treatment works by vaporizing or getting rid of crevices and pockets holding stones in the tonsils so the stones don’t have a place to hide.
- Coblation Cryptolysis: A procedure that uses lower temperatures and combines radiofrequency and saline to dissect the tonsils — this treatment shrinks tonsil crevices without using heat.
- Tonsillectomy: The tonsils will be removed and are often done if you have big tonsils, chronic tonsil stones or ongoing tonsil inflammation.
As far as a non-invasive treatment option with your dentist, you might consider soft palate laser stimulation. This bio stimulation of the collagen causes the lymphoid tissue or tonsils to tighten up thus reducing the size of the tonsil crevices. There is no down-time and no pain. Your throat may feel a little scratchy afterwards but that’s about it.
As always, our Exceptional Dentistry Team encourages proactivity when it comes to your oral health. Being proactive with your oral health can often limit future tonsil stones, and as we mentioned, a good place to start is by seeing our dentist regularly.
Call our office at (661) 349-7725 to schedule your next dental visit so that we can answer any questions about your tonsil stones or oral health. Or you can simply request a reservation online. Our goal is to help you keep your smile healthy, strong and resilient all year round!