Readers ask, we answer:
What are tonsil stones?
Tonsil stones (or tonsilloliths) are hard, white, or yellow lumps that form on your tonsils. They look, as you might guess, like little pebbles. More of a nuisance than a true health risk, tonsil stones can cause bad-smelling breath and are treated at home.
How do stones form in my tonsils?
Tonsil stones are created when food, bacteria, minerals such as calcium, and other debris, like dead cells and mucus, get stuck in the small pockets in your tonsils (known as tonsillar crypts). When the debris hardens, tonsil stones form. This occurs most often in people who have long-term inflammation or multiple cases of tonsillitis.
How will I know if tonsil stones are forming?
Your dentist may diagnose them during a routine exam, but tonsil stones may not cause noticeable symptoms for you to detect at home. If the stones do cause problems, typical warning signs include bad breath, ear pain, and throat irritations — soreness, trouble swallowing, coughing, and tonsil swelling.
What can I do to prevent tonsil stones?
The best way to prevent tonsil stones is to consistently maintain a clean mouth, including your teeth and gums. Here are a few guidelines to follow:
- Brush twice each day with fluoride toothpaste, floss, and visit your dentist for preventive care.
- Gargling after meals can remove any further food buildup.
What can I do to treat tonsil stones?
If you have tonsil stones, consult your physician. They will assess the severity of your stones and provide treatment options, including:
At-home removal: In most cases, tonsil stones can be removed by gargling with warm, salty water or by dislodging with a water pick or swab. Note: Do not use your finger or a toothbrush, as you may scratch your tonsils and cause an infection.
Antibiotics: These are not necessary in most cases, as they do not treat the underlying cause of tonsil stones. Your physician may prescribe them if you develop a bacterial infection.
Surgery: In rare cases, tonsil stones may require surgery. Your physician can refer you to an ear, nose, and throat specialist, who will help you navigate your options.
While tonsil stones rarely cause long-term harm, you’ll want to avoid the irritation they can cause when left untreated. Stick to your oral health routine to stay stone free!
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