Tonsil Stones or Tonsilloliths

Tonsil Stone
Tonsil Stone. By Phreezinc at English Wikipedia [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

What Are Tonsil Stones?

Tonsil stones, also known as tonsilloliths, are formed when debris becomes trapped in pockets (sometimes referred to as crypts) in the tonsils. Trapped debris such as dead skin cells, white blood cells, and bacteria, become saturated with saliva and becomes calcified forming a stone-like ball. Individuals who have these pockets in their tonsils are said to have cryptic tonsils, fetid tonsils, or chronic caseous tonsillitis.

Tonsil stones range from white to yellow in color and if you don't know what they are, they can sometimes look like pus on your tonsils. You may not always be able to see these stone until they are larger in size. However you may be looking at a tonsil stone if you cough up something that is small, is hard like a stone, and has a bad odor.

Am I At Risk For Developing Tonsil Stones?

Women are about 33 percent more likely to develop tonsil stones than men, but the reason why is not well understood. Age can play a factor in your risk for developing tonsil stones, with children being the least likely to develop them. Teenagers and adults are much more common than children, and it is thought that chronic inflammation from throat or ear infections can put you at higher risk. Chronic inflammation can cause the formation of crypts and fibrosis (thickening and scarring) to occur allowing an ideal location for stones to form.

People who have had a tonsillectomy don't typically get tonsil stones even if some of their tonsil tissue grows back.

Are Tonsil Stones Harmful?

Tonsil stones are generally harmless to your health but may occasionally cause discomfort such as a sore throat, feeling like there is something stuck in your throat, dry mouth and bad breath (halitosis).

Halitosis associated with tonsil stones is sometimes severe since a common bacteria that contributes to the formation of tonsil stones is known to produce sulfur. Disturbing or removing a tonsil stone can sometimes release this putrid odor. Practicing good oral good hygiene with toothpaste and mouthwashes are not enough to get rid of the bad breath associated with tonsil stones or to prevent the development of tonsil stones. The only way to cure the halitosis is to get rid of the tonsil stones.

Removing Tonsil Stones

Getting rid of tonsil stones may be achieved via a procedure called CO(2) laser cryptolysis or rarely a tonsillectomy. While a tonsillectomy would subsequently remove any tonsil stones, surgical removal of the tonsils is not generally a compelling enough reason for this surgery. Your physician can review the benefit versus the risks associated with a tonsillectomy for tonsil stone removal. You should not try to remove tonsil stones with sharp objects, because you could accidentally damage tonsillar tissue and because the tonsils are in close proximity to major blood vessels.

Water irrigators, or water picks, have been shown to be helpful in removing a portion of the tonsil stones. However it is not generally accepted that the stone is completely removed, and you will likely still have any symptoms, like bad breath.

Sources:

Burkhart, NW. (2015). Tonsilloliths: Opacities on panoramic images. RDH, 35(6), 76-100.

Medscape Today. Chronic Tonsillar Exudate. Accessed: October 5, 2009 from http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/450141

Optics.org. Laser Therapy Cures Bad Breath. Accessed: October 5, 2009 from http://optics.org/article/20867

PubMed. Relationship Between the Presence of Tonsilloliths and Halitosis in Patients With Chronic Caseous Tonsillitis. Accessed: October 5, 2009 from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18037821

Tonsillolith.org. Tonsil Stones (Medically Called Tonsilloliths) - Have You Coughed Up a Stinky Mass From Your Throat? Accessed: November 2, 2015 from http://tonsillolith.org/

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