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What causes tonsil stones?

Jun 5, 2023Oral health

What causes tonsil stones?

Tonsil stones are tiny calcified deposits that form in the tonsils, which are glands located at the back of the throat. These glands contain crevices known as tonsillar crypts, where debris can accumulate and lead to the formation of stones that range from 1mm to 2mm across. Tonsils help protect against infection and thus are important components of the immune system.

If one’s tonsillar crypts become enlarged, certain minerals such as calcium may become trapped and calcify into what are known as tonsil stones. Additionally, bacteria and fungi that can cause tonsillitis may contribute to the formation of these tonsil stones.

Tonsil stones are a relatively common condition that typically pose minimal health risks. Despite this, they can cause considerable discomfort and require attention.

Tonsil stones, commonly referred to as tonsilloliths or tonsilliths, are bumps comprised of calcified material that form on the tonsils. These formations can vary in size from a grain of rice to a grape. In some rare cases, these growths can become large enough to cause difficulty with swallowing or breathing.

Tonsilloliths can often be difficult to detect due to their small size and deep embedment within the tonsils. These structures may range in consistency from soft or squishy to hard, and are commonly observed to be pale-yellow in color.

Tonsil stones may be uncomfortable, but they are not indicative of a serious health condition such as cancer. They do not pose any significant health risks and are typically harmless.

Individuals who are susceptible to tonsil stones may find that they often experience discomfort and unpleasant breath, both being common symptoms of tonsil stones. While uncomfortable, addressing these symptoms is important in order to maintain overall health and well-being. Other common symptoms of a condition may include pressure in the ears and red or irritated tonsils.


What are tonsil stones?

Tonsilloliths, commonly referred to as tonsil stones, are hardened deposits that form in the tonsils. Though they typically remain small in size, they can lead to unpleasant breath odor and are most commonly experienced in adolescents. Large tonsil stones are rare occurrences.

Tonsil stones are typically not a cause for concern, and may not require treatment. However, if they become an issue, surgical options may be considered.


Who’s at risk of tonsil stones?

Individuals with a higher number of tonsillar crypts are more likely to develop tonsil stones. This phenomenon is also frequent among those who have had numerous bouts of tonsillitis throughout their lifetime. Tonsilliths are typically found in adolescents.

People who experience chronic tonsillitis are at higher risk of developing tonsil stones. To prevent the formation of such stones, it is recommended to have one’s tonsils surgically removed.

Practicing good dental hygiene can help reduce the risk of developing tonsil stones. It is recommended to brush and floss regularly in order to remove bacteria and ensure that food particles do not become trapped in the tonsils. Additionally, gargling with water after eating can prevent food buildup.


Why do tonsils get infected?

The tonsils act as a first line of defense for the immune system, protecting against bacteria and viruses that may enter through the mouth. As a result, they are more susceptible to infection and inflammation. After puberty, the tonsils’ immune system functions decline, which may explain the infrequency of tonsillitis in adults.


How are tonsil stones diagnosed?

If you suspect you may have tonsil stones, your doctor will consult with you and perform an examination. Depending on the case, they may or may not be visible, in which case imaging scans may be suggested to detect their presence.

If the stones are removed and inspected, they typically have an unpleasant odor.


What do tonsil stones look like?

Tonsil stones, which may appear in the form of small white or yellow pebbles, are a common occurrence. Individuals can present with one or multiple tonsil stones, and although they are typically small, some individuals may develop large tonsil stones.

Tonsil stones may be associated with a number of unpleasant symptoms, including bad breath, sore throat, and difficulty swallowing.


How do I know if I have tonsil stones?

Tonsil stones may go undetected if they are small, as there are often no associated symptoms.

Signs of larger tonsil stones may include:

Tonsil stones can range in size, with smaller ones appearing as white or yellow specks on the tonsils and larger ones easily visible and even protruding from the tonsils.


How do you remove tonsil stones?

Most tonsilloliths are generally considered harmless; however, they can sometimes emit an unpleasant odor or cause discomfort. If you feel the need to remove them, there are a range of available treatments, including home remedies and medical procedures.


Gargling with a salt-water solution may provide relief for throat discomfort and can help dislodge tonsil stones, as well as diminish any unpleasant odors associated with them. To create an effective solution, dissolve one half teaspoon of salt in eight ounces of warm water, then use the mixture to gargle.


It is possible to become aware of tonsil stones when they are coughed up. A more forceful cough may assist in dislodging the stones.

Manual removal

It is not advised to remove stones from your tonsils using rigid items, such as a toothbrush, as this can cause harm to the delicate tissues of your tonsils. It is important to be gentle when attempting to remove these stones.

Manually removing tonsil stones can pose risks and lead to possible complications, such as bleeding and infection. If trying to remove them manually is necessary, it is advisable to use a water pick or cotton swab with gentleness rather than a toothbrush.


Tonsil Stone Treatment and Removal

Many tonsil stones may not require special treatment, particularly if they are not causing any discomfort or symptoms. Treatment options may depend on the size of the tonsil stones and their potential to cause further disruption.

Treatments include:

Antibiotics: Medication may prove to be an effective treatment option; however, it is important to note that there are potential side effects associated with this approach and it will not address the underlying cause of your tonsil stones.

Surgical removal: If your tonsil stones are unusually large size or are causing difficulties, your dentist may recommend a removal procedure.

Tonsillectomy: If persistent issues with tonsil stones occur, it may be necessary to consider surgical removal of the tonsils.

Cryptolysis: This procedure utilizes a laser or radiofrequency wand to scar the tonsils, resulting in reduced likelihood of developing tonsilloliths.

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