Tonsil stones, also called “tonsilliths” or “tonsilloliths,” are not a common issue. But for some people, they can be quite uncomfortable. The National Institute of Health (NIH), reports that a tonsollith is not really a stone at all, but living biofilm.
In this post, learn what causes tonsil stones, how they are diagnosed and treated and what you can do to prevent them.
Can You Stomach It?!
An Anatomy of the Human Tonsils
While most people are aware that they have tonsils, the details often get fuzzy from there. Some people even confuse the tonsils with the uvula, the loose skin flap hanging down near the back of the throat.
The tonsils are part of the body’s disease defense system, the lymphatic system. The tonsils’ job is to stop toxins, viral germs, fungi and bacteria before they can travel down the throat and reach the major organs.
Because of this important job, the tonsils include a system of grooves, crypts and crevices designed to trap unwelcome matter so it can be broken down by the white blood cells and flushed after being rendered harmless.
However, in some people, the grooves, crypts and crevices are deeper and more prone to hoarding this matter too far inside the tonsils for them to be flushed out normally with the saliva.
When this occurs, tonsil stones, or tonsil calculi, can form and grow larger. The larger they grow, the more they get stuck inside the tonsils. For this reason, using a water flosser for tonsil stones can be helpful to reach back into the crypt areas where a toothbrush and floss typically cannot reach.
Common Causes of Tonsil Stones?
The most common causes of tonsil stones are one part biology and one part hygiene.
For example, as referenced in the prior section here, some people just have deeper grooves, crypts and crevices in their tonsils than other people. So these people are automatically more prone to developing tonsil stones, even if their oral hygiene is pristine.
However, the population that develops tonsil stones most frequently is teens, because they often pay less attention to oral hygiene than adults. For a teen who has unusually deep tonsil crypts who neglects oral hygiene, tonsil stones are more likely to form.
Here, it is important to point out, as Live Science notes, that tonsil stones are typically not serious. But they can be uncomfortable, as the next section here will highlight.
Symptoms of Tonsil Stones
When tonsil stones begin to form and grow, they usually make their presence known with a certain set of symptoms. The most common symptoms, as Mayo Clinic details, are as follows:
– Swelling at or near the area of the tonsils.
– Tonsil infection.
– Foul breath.
– Chronic sore throat.
– Pain near or inside the ears.
– A feeling that something is caught in the back of the throat.
When these symptoms begin to occur, sometimes it is possible to see the tonsil stones protruding from the crypts inside the tonsils at the back of the mouth. However, it is not always possible to visually identify them. If this is the case, read on for diagnostic information.
Diagnosing and Treating Tonsil Stones
A general practice doctor or dentist can diagnose tonsil stones with an oral examination. In most cases, it is easy to treat tonsil stones by removing them.
This helpful video about tonsil stones gives a visual tutorial for how to remove tonsil stones at home. However, if the stones are deep inside the tonsil crypts, it may be best to have a medical professional do the removal for your own safety.
As well, if you have never removed tonsil stones before, it can be beneficial to have professional guidance the first time it happens.
There are three procedures that can be used to clean out clogged tonsil crypts and remove tonsil stones:
– Laser cryptolysis. This surgical procedure uses laser technology to remove the tonsil crypts themselves, ensuring no further tonsil stones can form.
– Coblation cryptolysis. This surgical procedure uses charged ions to accomplish the same.
– Tonsillectomy. Removing the tonsils altogether is called a “tonsillectomy.”
Preventing Tonsil Stones
The best way to prevent tonsil stones is to follow good oral hygiene and stay attentive to warning signs so you can clean out the tonsil crypts before tonsil stones are permitted to form!