Tonsil stones are hard white or yellow formations that are located on or within the tonsils and also called tonsilloliths. It is a common condition and people sometimes don’t even realize about it. They aren’t always easy to see and they can range from rice-sized to the size of a large grape. They rarely cause larger health complications. However, they can grow sometimes into larger formations that can cause the tonsils to swell and often have an unpleasant odor.
In this article:
Tonsil Stones: Causes, Symptoms & Home Remedies
Causes of Tonsil Stones
Tonsils are made up of crevices, tunnels, and pits known as tonsil crypts. Different types of debris such as dead cells, mucus, saliva, and food can get trapped in these pockets and build up. Bacteria and fungi feed on this build up and cause a distinct odor. Some people may have only one tonsil stone while others may have many smaller formations.
Causes include –
- Poor dental hygiene
- Large tonsils
- Chronic sinus issues
- Chronic tonsillitis (inflamed tonsils)
Symptoms of Tonsil Stones
Sometimes it is difficult to see tonsil stones but they can still cause noticeable symptoms which are –
- Bad breath
- Sore throat
- Trouble swallowing
- Ear pain
- Ongoing cough
- Swollen tonsils
- White or yellow debris on the tonsil
Smaller tonsil stones that are more common than large ones may not have any symptoms.
Prevention of Tonsil Stones
Tonsil stones may occur on a regular basis. Fortunately, there are steps to prevent them which include –
- Practice good oral hygiene including cleaning the bacteria off the back of the tongue when brushing the teeth
- Stop smoking
- Gargle with saltwater
- Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated
Tonsil Stones: Removal
Although tonsil stones are harmless many people want to remove them because they can smell bad or cause discomfort. It can be removed by –
- Gargling – vigorously gargling with salt water can ease throat discomfort and may help dislodge tonsil stones. Saltwater may also help to change the mouth chemistry and help get rid of the odor tonsil stones can cause. Dissolve ½ teaspoon salt in 8 ounces of warm water and gargle.
- Cough – first discover that having tonsil stones when coughing one up. Energetic coughing can help loosen stones.
- Manual Removal – removing the stones with rigid items like a toothbrush is not recommended. The tonsils are delicate tissues so it’s important to be gentle. Manually removing tonsil stones can be risky and lead to complications like bleeding and infection. Gently use a water pick or a cotton swab is a better choice. Minor surgical procedures may be advised if stones become particularly large or cause pain or persistent symptoms.
- Laser Tonsil Cryptolysis – a laser is used to eliminate the crypts where tonsil stones lodge. This procedure is often performed using local anesthesia. Discomfort and recovery time is usually minimal.
- Coblation Cryptolysis – radio waves transform a salt solution into charged ions and these ions can cut through tissue.
- Tonsillectomy – it is the surgical removal of tonsils. This procedure may be done using a scalpel, laser or coblation device. It is recommended for severe, chronic cases and after all other methods have been tried without success.
- Antibiotics – these lower the bacteria counts that play a crucial role in the development and growth of the tonsil stones.
Complications of Tonsil Stones
Complications are rare but are possible. One is a deep infection of the tonsil known as an abscess. Large tonsil stones can damage and disrupt normal tonsil tissue which can lead to swelling, inflammation, and infection.
7 Home Remedies for Tonsil Stones
At first, the tonsil stones are small and can be removed with natural remedies which are –
Apple Cider Vinegar or Any Vinegar
Dilute with water and gargle. Vinegar helps to break down the stones because of its acidic content.
It has antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral properties. It may combat bacterial growth and infection.
A Cotton Swab or Finger
If tonsil stone is visible, try to reach it with the finger or a cotton swab and scrape it off. Do this very carefully as it may cause additional infection or complications if done aggressively or if the stone’s larger. Gargle with saltwater immediately after removing tonsil this way. It should not be done unless the stone is easy to reach and small.
Depending on the size of the stone, coughing could dislodge a stone in some cases.
Some oils have anti-inflammatory or antibacterial properties which are myrrh, thieves oil, and lemongrass. These may be able to help reduce or eliminate the tonsil stones. Dilute the essential oil in a carrier oil and place one or two drops on a toothbrush before brushing the stones. Make sure to follow the directions for each specific oil. Because of the number of bacteria, it’s recommended that don’t use this toothbrush going forward.
Rinsing with salt water is an effective treatment of oral wounds.
Other home remedies
Acidic content of apples may help combat the bacteria in a tonsil stone.
Chewing carrots help increase saliva and the production of natural antibacterial processes which may help reduce or eliminate the tonsil stones.
These contain strong antibacterial properties and help to prevent or eliminate tonsil stones.
Are Tonsil Stones Contagious?
No, they are not. They are made up of a material called biofilm. In the mouth, a biofilm is a combination of the own mouth’s bacteria and fungi interacting with the mouth’s chemistry.
Tonsil stones are a common problem. There is a range of symptoms and rarely leads to complications. Prevent it properly with home remedies. Talk to the doctor for proper treatment.