Tonsil Stones

By Catherine M. Fascilla, D.D.S.

Is it really possible to whiten your teeth with black charcoal? It seems counter intuitive but it is a popular fad these days that appears to work.

Did you know that the kidneys aren’t the only place in your body to develop stones? Most people don’t know that tonsils may also have stones. In fact, many people who have tonsil stones don’t even realize it.

Also known as tonsilloliths, tonsilliths, and tonsil calculi, tonsil stones are the small calicified (hardened) masses of food particles, mucus, bacteria and other debris that accumulate in the crypts of the tonsils. The crypts are the folds or pockets naturally found in your tonsils.

Tonsil stones are white or yellow and vary in size. They can be as small or as large as a sesame seed or a pumpkin seed and occasionally even larger than that. While they are benign, usually painless and most people are unaware of their presence, they can cause the tonsils to become enlarged and inflamed, making it difficult to swallow and causing bad breath.

Tonsil stones are caused by the accumulation of debris and bacteria in the tonsil crypts that harden over time. Other things that contribute to the formation of these stones include prescription drugs, dry mouth, and sinus or allergy problems. Any medication that reduces the salivary flow will contribute to stone formation because saliva contains various electrolytes, enzymes, and antibacterial compounds that destroy harmful bacteria in the mouth. Sinus problems or allergies lead to post nasal drip and a build up of mucus.

Symptoms of tonsil stones include white or yellow debris, ear pain, swollen tonsils, bad breath, sore throat, difficulty swallowing, excessive coughing and a bad taste in the mouth. While they are not life threatening, they can be annoying. Simply applying gentle pressure on the tonsils with a cotton swab will dislodge the stones; however, sometimes they dislodge when coughing or sneezing.

Finally, prevention is as simple as good oral hygiene: brushing your teeth and tongue after meals, at bedtime, first thing in the morning, and flossing daily help to reduce the amount of bacteria in your mouth. Gargling daily with an alcohol-free antibacterial mouthwash or using a homemade solution of hydrogen peroxide and water is also very helpful. So remember, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Perhaps this insight may motivate greater attention to your daily oral hygiene.

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