What Are Tonsil Stones? Important Points to Consider
Updated: January 2023
Tonsil stones are common and embarrassing.
This is a familiar condition among thousands of Americans, leading to chronic bad breath and tonsil pain. Tonsil stones rarely cause serious health problems, but many people wonder if they can make you sick?
We’ve got all the information you need to know on what tonsil stones are, how to get rid of them and how to prevent them.
But first, we’ll answer the question ‘what are tonsil stones?’ and delve into what is involved with ENT removal.
What Are Tonsil Stones?
These small lumps of hard material look like tiny white or yellow pebbles. While they’re not painful, they can give you very bad breath. Typically, tonsil stones are small, though on some occasions they may be large. They look like white “dots” on your tonsils and can be mistaken for food particles.
In actuality, they are comprised of shed epithelium, a type of body tissue.
You may also hear them referred to as tonsilloliths.
Can Tonsil Stones Make You Sick?
As we mentioned earlier, serious problems from tonsil stones are extremely rare. Tonsil stones can cause bothersome symptoms. However, they can not make you sick.
They can cause problems such as:
- Sore throats
While they are not serious, there are a few things you should keep your eye on.
If your tonsils are extremely red, bleed easily, or if you have tonsil pain that extends all the way to your ear, this could be an indicator of a deeper and possibly more serious problem. If you have these symptoms, we recommend you schedule an appointment with us as soon as possible.
For this reason, we recommend that you visit one of our ENTs in Raleigh and the surrounding Triangle area if you have any signs of tonsil stones.
Why Do People Get Tonsil Stones?
The epithelium is the surface lining of the tonsil, and it will shed, much like skin sheds. As a result, it collects in the crypts of the tonsils.
This happens because the tonsils have irregular surfaces. Some of these craters and crypts are so deep that bacteria, food particles and mucus may also be caught in them (in addition to the epithelium).
These substances are “compacted” when pressed into the crypts, hardening into the stones.
Do Tonsil Stones Go Away on Their Own?
When these stones fill the crypt areas, they may be coughed out. However, after removal, they may generally recollect within weeks to months.
Because this is a chronic condition, they may not permanently go away on their own.
If they are noticed infrequently and are only mildly symptomatic, they do not require treatment. However, for some patients, they can be a weekly or even daily annoyance, and these patients often seek help.
Are Tonsil Stones Normal?
While they are not necessarily normal, they are common. The shedding of the epithelium is a part of the tonsil’s natural process; the particles getting caught in the crypts is not.
Because fewer and fewer people are getting tonsillectomies, incidences of them are increasing.
How to Get Rid of Tonsil Stones
Now that we’ve answered ‘what are tonsil stones?’ you may be wondering how to get rid of them.
There are several at-home measures you can use to help get rid of them. If these are not successful, or if the tonsil stones are unusually large, you may need ENT removal.
At-Home Measures on How to Get Rid of Them
There are a few methods of how to get rid of tonsil stones at home. These include:
Gargling salt water
Gargling can dislodge them, but it is also beneficial in many other ways.
It typically makes your throat feel better, and gargling after eating can keep extra food particles or debris away from your tonsils. It can even help remedy bad breath.
Sometimes, a strong cough is all that is needed to dislodge them.
Using a Cotton Swab or Q-tip
We have to place a note of caution here. It’s tempting to try to get rid of them by using your finger, toothbrush or some other object. But your tonsils are delicate, and any effort to force them out can cause more damage to your throat. This is best left to us for ENT removal
If you must use an object, gently use a cotton swab.
However, if your case is severe and chronic, a tonsillectomy may be the answer.
How to Prevent Tonsil Stones
Remaining healthy is about much more than understanding what are tonsil stones. Good oral hygiene goes a long way to prevent them from forming. We recommend brushing your teeth after meals, in the morning and before bed. Daily flossing will also help.
We suggest using mouthwash regularly as long as that mouthwash does NOT have an alcohol base.
While this may not prevent them completely it will reduce your likelihood of developing them.
Raleigh Capitol Ear, Nose and Throat Is Here to Help You Get Rid of Tonsil Stones
We understand the annoyance that they can cause. That’s why we offer extensive services from the convenience of our office.
We’ve been the leading ear nose and throat doctors in the Raleigh and Triangle area, offering extensive outpatient services, most of which are performed in our practice.
We’ve been caring for adults and children, offering expertise, compassion and important information you need to remain healthy.
Having problems with tonsil stones? Don’t put up with this inconvenience. We encourage you to schedule an appointment today.
Raleigh Capitol Ear, Nose, and Throat is the area’s premier physician-owned ENT practice with convenient locations throughout Wake County. Our board-certified physicians have extensive experience in treating both common and complex cases to help adults and children alike. For more information or to schedule an appointment, contact us.