Have you noticed small white or yellow formations in the pockets of your tonsils? When you pick them out, they may have an unpleasant odor. These are most likely tonsil stones, and they can range from rice-sized to grape-sized. They rarely cause health problems, but since they can cause bad breath it’s a good idea to find out how to prevent them.
What Causes Tonsil Stones?
It’s easy for debris such as food particles, mucus, and saliva to settle into the tiny pits and crevices in your tonsils. When that debris gets trapped and hardens, it forms tonsil stones which bacteria and fungi like to feed on – resulting in really bad breath. Some people are more susceptible to tonsil stones than others, such as those who don’t brush their teeth often, those with chronic sinus issues, and those with large tonsils.
What Are Symptoms of Tonsil Stones?
Along with the hardened debris in your tonsils, tonsil stones are sometimes accompanied by bad breath, a sore throat, trouble swallowing, ear pain and a chronic cough.
How Can I Prevent Tonsil Stones?
Since tonsil stones cause bad breath, you should do all you can to keep them from forming. You can prevent them by:
- Using your toothbrush to clean the bacteria off the back of your tongue
- Quitting smoking
- Staying hydrated
- Gargling with salt water
How Should I Remove Tonsil Stones?
While tonsil stones themselves aren’t usually harmful, you’ll want to remove them to get rid of bad breath and pain, and to eliminate the possibility of an infection or abscess. It’s never safe to pick at your tonsils with your fingernail or a toothbrush, as this can cause damage to the delicate tonsil tissue. Instead, try these home remedies:
- Gargle with salt water to dislodge the tonsil stones and get rid of the odor tonsil stones can cause. Use ½ teaspoon of salt in 8 ounces of warm water.
- Use a water pick to gently spray the tonsil stones out of their crevices.
- Cough to loosen the tonsil stones.
What If Tonsil Stones Become a Chronic Problem?
If stones tend to grow larger than most and cause a lot of pain, your ENT may recommend minimally invasive procedures to get rid of the crevices where stones tend to form. Laser tonsil cryptolysis uses a laser, while coblation cryptolysis involves radio waves that transform a salt solution into charged ions, and the ions cut through tissue to eliminate the tiny pockets.
Some doctors will use antibiotics to manage tonsil stones since they can lower bacteria counts that lead to their growth. In severe cases when no other treatment works, doctors may recommend a tonsillectomy.