Tonsil stones form when small pieces of debris accumulate in the small pockets in the tonsils. This becomes the breeding ground for bacteria causing chronic bad breath and other oral cavity disorders. The semi-hard stones, which range from minuscule bits to pea-sized cause white spots on the tonsils. Those who are affected can feel these stones at the back of the throat as they stay there for quite awhile.
Tonsil stones or tonsilloliths are relatively harmless but those who have them seek treatment to address the discomfort and embarrassment they bring as a result of terribly stinky mouth or breath. The treatment largely depends on the severity of the symptoms and the size of the stones. Treatment is not usually needed if the condition is asymptomatic. It is best to consult the doctor first before trying or taking anything to remove them. Surgery is usually needed if the stones are large enough.
Causes of tonsil stones
The structure of the tonsils makes them susceptible to develop stones. These gland-like structures located at the back of the throat have small pockets that could trap bacteria and foreign matter that enter the body through the nose, eyes, ears and mouth. Stones develop when these substances harden or calcify. Their formation could be attributed to any or a combination of the following:
- Residual enzyme from food
- Dead cells and mucus
- Oral bacteria
- Smoking without the use of filter
- Strep throat
Those who have frequent bouts of tonsillitis, as well as those who smoke without using a filter and practice poor oral hygiene, are at risk of developing stones in their tonsils. Tonsilloliths is estimated to affect 1 out of 10 persons and this number is expected to rise over the years. Anyone could get it, even children and teens.
Symptoms of tonsil stones
The stones appear as tiny white spots in the tonsils. They are rarely seen as large, solid stones. An imaging test, like MRI or CT scan, can reveal the stones hidden in the crevasses of the tonsils. There are some accompanying symptoms, but the severity differs in every individual.
- Difficulty swallowing
The stones cause swallowing foods and liquids difficult and even painful.
- Bad breath
The combination of trapped bacteria and foul-smelling sulfur compounds causes one’s breath to become stinky.
- Painful ear
The ear can feel the problem that originates in the tonsils because they share nerve pathways. People with tonsil stones may complain of earaches.
- Sore throat
The pain resulting from stones in the tonsils mimics sore throat pain. However, sore throat and tonsil stone can occur together and cause intense pain on the throat.
- Swollen tonsil
The stone can cause the tonsil to become inflamed. This becomes more defined if tonsil infection is present.
Other than these, the affected individual may also suffer from fever, persistent coughing and itchy throat. Tonsil stone is relatively harmless but it could result in complications which may occur if nothing is done to relieve the symptoms. These include weight loss, dehydration, subsequent re-growth and localized trauma to the tissues in the mouth. Problems that may develop after surgical treatment include hemorrhage, vocal changes, pulmonary edema, airway obstruction, depression and sometimes death.
Diagnosis of tonsil stones
The doctor can easily diagnose tonsil stones through visual and physical examination of the throat. He or she may request for imaging tests, like X-ray, CT scan and MRI to confirm the diagnosis especially if the stones are hidden in the folds of the tonsils. Imaging test can also discount the possibility of malignancy and calcified granuloma.
The treatment of tonsil stones is geared towards relieving the accompanying symptoms and preventing secondary infections or complications. Prescription medications are given to treat the inflammation and infection, while intravenous fluids are sometimes administered. Those who have severe symptoms and recurring bouts of tonsilloliths may need to have their tonsils removed. Tonsillectomy or the surgical removal of tonsils provides long-term relief from the symptoms of tonsil stones.
Treating tonsil stones at home
There are lots of home care remedies for tonsil stones. The stones will grow bigger if left untreated and unpleasant symptoms may occur. That is why it is important to act promptly as soon as the symptoms surface. The stones can be removed easily when they are still minuscule. The following are some of the effective home remedies:
- Salt water gargling
This common remedy is done by mixing 2 tablespoons of salt and water and using it as a gargle 3 times daily to relieve discomfort. Some add grapefruit seed extract into their mouthwash to dislodge the stones.
A toothbrush can be an indispensable tool in removing tonsil stones. Also, probing a cotton swab upwards can press the stones to come out.
Intense coughing can effectively dislodge the stones in the tonsils.
Tonsil stones not only cause chronic bad breath, they also sometimes lead to complications. Properly addressing the issue will not only solve the accompanying symptoms but avert more serious problems in the future.
Tonsil Stone Pictures