Tonsil stones, or tonsiloliths, are small, hardened materials that form on the tonsils or the back of your mouth and are usually white or yellowish in colour. They are a common cause of bad breath among teenagers.
While tonsil stones are usually not harmful, removing them helps prevent poor breath smells and improves oral hygiene.
Learn more about tonsil stones, how they form, and the best ways to treat and prevent them with our short read below.
Understanding Tonsil Stones
Tonsil stones look like tiny white or yellow pebbles in the tonsils. The tonsils are located on either side of the back of your mouth, just behind your soft palate. So, one good way to check if you have tonsil stones is to open your mouth wide and check the nooks and crannies of your tonsils for white lumps.
Tonsil stones are hardened or calcified material usually of hardened calcium (or other minerals), food debris, bacteria, or fungi. Because they are filled with bacteria, they can make the breath smell and even cause sore throat. In some cases, they can also cause earache and difficulty in swallowing.
Most tonsil stones are small and can easily be removed at home with caution. However, long-term inflammation or larger trapped debris can result in bigger tonsil stones. In this case, your dentist or healthcare professional may recommend surgery.
Signs and Symptoms of Tonsil Stones
The most common and noticeable sign of tonsil stones is bad breath. Aside from this, other symptoms include:
- Sore throat
- Discomfort or difficulty when swallowing
- Bad taste in the mouth
- Sore throat
You may also feel like something is stuck in the back of your throat. And upon opening your mouth, you will find white lumps in your tonsils.
Causes and Risk Factors of Tonsil Stones
Tonsil stones form when debris and bacteria get trapped in between the tonsils, and then they calcify or harden over time. You are most likely to develop tonsil stones if you frequently get or have chronic tonsil infections or tonsillitis.
Anyone can get tonsil stones, but they most commonly affect teenagers. Other risk factors include:
- Enlarged tonsils
- Frequent dehydration
- Dry mouth
- Poor dental hygiene
- Medications causing dry mouth
- Chronic sinus problem
Diagnosing Tonsil Stones
Most tonsil stones are found coincidentally during personal mouth inspection. Some may get discovered during a routine dental examination at your dentist’s office.
To properly diagnose tonsil stones, your dentist may:
- Do a thorough mouth examination to check your mouth and throat
- Take a scan (MRI or CT) to identify the exact location and number of the stones
Treatment Options for Tonsil Stones
Tonsil stones are not a health risk. They often go away on their own or are coughed up. Treatment is done to address the symptoms, especially bad breath. Some of the treatment options that your dentist can recommend include:
- Antibiotics are prescribed to reduce bacteria and combat repeated infections.
- Antihistamines can help relieve inflammation and reduce mucus from sinus problems.
- This is a noninvasive treatment to minimize and remove tonsil pockets which are areas where debris can lodge and harden.
- For chronic tonsil infection or if your tonsil stones keep coming back, your healthcare provider may advise surgical removal of the tonsils. This will prevent future reinfection and tonsil stone problems.
How to get rid of tonsil stones at home?
Manual removal of tonsil stones at home is generally not recommended. The tonsils are delicate soft tissues that may tear, causing bleeding and infection.
But if you are considering removing your tonsil stones on your own, here are some home remedies you can try:
- Saltwater gargle – dilute salt in warm water and gently swish this in your mouth to dislodge the stones. This is also a great antibacterial agent that will get rid of mouth odour.
- Coughing – you can also try to cough out the tonsil stones. In most cases, a hard cough will do the trick to remove them.
- Water pick – oral irrigators use water pressure that can help flush tonsil stones out.
- Cotton swab – gently push the tonsil stone out using a cotton swab. Do this with caution so as not to prod and injure your throat.
When Should You See Your Dentist?
Because tonsil stones usually dissolve on their own, medical attention is not often required. But if you are having a hard time removing them, visit your nearest dental clinic to get professional help.
You should also consult your doctor or dentist if you are experiencing:
- Breathing problems
- Trouble swallowing
- Severe pain
- Chronic or recurring infection
Tonsil Stones Prevention
Maintaining good oral hygiene is the most effective way to prevent tonsil stones. This prevents the build-up of bacteria and debris that may accumulate in the tonsil pockets to eventually cause stones.
Brush and floss at least twice a day. And gargle regularly with alcohol-free mouthwash or saltwater solution. Use a tongue scraper to clean your tongue and remove bacteria.
Other preventive tips are the following:
- Drink plenty of water.
- Quit smoking.
- Avoid excessive consumption of alcohol.
- Treat sinus infections and allergy symptoms promptly.
- See your dentist regularly for check-ups and teeth cleaning.
Tonsil Stones FAQs
How long do tonsil stones last?
The duration of tonsil stones depends largely on oral hygiene. The longer bacteria stays in the mouth, the longer you can expect the tonsil stones to remain. They can also reoccur with neglected oral hygiene. Other than that, they will dislodge or dissolve on their own in a short time.
Can tonsil stones be prevented entirely?
Proper oral hygiene is the best preventive technique for tonsil stones. Hydration is also key as it helps wash away bacteria and debris.
Are tonsil stones contagious?
No, tonsil stones are not contagious.
How to differentiate tonsil stones from other throat issues?
Tonsil stones are particularly different from other throat issues in that stones develop calcified, pebble or pea-sized lumps on the back of your throat. This is oftentimes coupled with bad breath.
Tonsil Stones — Conclusion
In general, tonsil stones are harmless and should not affect your daily living. Treatment is mostly to relieve symptoms such as bad breath and inflammation. It is also to prevent reinfection so your stones do not keep coming back.
But if you are worried about your tonsil stones, you can always ask our expert dental team for help. Book your consultation today at Springbank Hill Dental for total oral health care!