The tonsils, located at the back of the throat, are a part of the body's lymphatic and immune systems. Tonsil stones are formed when bacteria and other debris get stuck in tiny crevices on the tonsils. Though tonsil stones are usually difficult to spot because they are mostly symptomless, they rarely cause any significant health complications. However, when they grow in size, they can make your tonsils swell, and produce an unpleasant odor.
What Are Tonsil Stones?
Bacteria and other debris that get trapped in tiny crevices on the tonsils result in the development of small stones called tonsil stones. The medical term for tonsil stones is tonsilloliths, and they appear as hard white or yellow formations on or within the tonsils. These stones vary significantly in size. Some people may have a single tonsil stone, while others may develop many smaller ones.
Possible reasons for tonsil stones include:
- Poor dental hygiene
- Large tonsils
- Chronic sinus issues
- Chronic tonsillitis (inflamed tonsils)
Miniature tonsil stones that are more common than larger ones may appear symptomless. On the other hand, some tonsil stones that may be difficult to notice can still produce remarkable symptoms.
Symptoms of tonsil stones include:
- Bad breath
- Sore throat
- Trouble swallowing
- Ear pain
- Ongoing cough
- Swollen tonsils
- White or yellow debris on the tonsil
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Tonsil stone treatments range from home remedies to medical techniques like a Tonsillectomy. However, you should avoid removing tonsil stones that do not show any symptoms. Here are some tips on how you can get rid of tonsil stones at home, and when to visit a doctor.
Stand in front of a properly-lit mirror and try to loosen your tonsil stones by carefully aiming a low-pressure water irrigator, such as a water flosser, toward the tonsil stones. Maintain caution while doing this activity so that the water flosser does not fall toward the back of the throat and produce coughing. Never try this on children as they can choke. Also, regularly irrigate the tonsils to help prevent tonsil stones from forming.
Gently swish a non-alcoholic mouthwash around the mouth to help loosen tonsil stones and reduce the number of bacteria in the mouth. Having fewer bacteria can help stop tonsil stones from developing. Non-alcoholic mouthwash is available in local drug stores and online.
A warm saltwater gargle may help detach tonsil stones. You can prepare this by adding half a teaspoon of salt to a cup of lukewarm water. Gargle the solution for 10–15 seconds. Saltwater gargles may also help alleviate a sore, scratchy throat.
Slightly dampen the cotton swab and insert it toward the back of the throat to gently sweep the stones away. Avoid touching the central portion of the throat to prevent choking. Since many blood vessels surround the tonsils, it is essential to try only a few sweeps with the cotton swab. If bleeding occurs, stop using the swab.
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When to See Your Doctor
You should consult a doctor when:
- A person shows symptoms of tonsil stones, but the stones aren't visible.
- Tonsil stones removal at home isn't possible, or just a part of the stone can be removed.
- The tonsils are red, inflamed, or painful.
- You experience pain after removing a tonsil stone at home.
- There is bleeding in the tonsils.