They're lurking in the back of your throat. They can be difficult to remove, and while they're there, chances are high that they'll give you bad breath and make you all but unkissable. They're tonsil stones, which are more common than you might think. But what are these things, and what causes tonsil stones in the first place?
Also called tonsilloliths, tonsil stones are small, whitish, rounded specks that can be found in the back of your throat, often tucked into the folds of your tonsils or adenoids. They can be tough to see without any visual aid.
To look for tonsil stones in your own mouth, open your mouth in front of a mirror and say "Ahhh." Shine a flashlight into your throat and look carefully for any small stone-like objects. Most tonsilloliths are just one or two millimeters across, so look hard!
If you spot any, don't be shocked. These little objects are natural, even common. But what causes tonsil stones?
Basically, a tonsil stone is an accumulation of food bits, dead bacteria, mucus and other gunk. To use a less disgusting simile (one that tonsilloliths probably don't deserve): just like a pearl forms when a speck of grit enters an oyster, a tonsil stone is generated when food or other crud lodges in your tonsils.
If you've ever had a sore throat or tonsillitis, this phenomenon may be exacerbated by cryptic tonsils, which is when the glands become inflamed, wrinkled and folded, giving food particles plenty of places to get stuck.
A study published in the journal Microbes and Infection determined that tonsil stones cause bad breath because they are crawling with anaerobic bacteria. Another report, this one appearing in the journal Otolaryngology, Head and Neck Surgery, added that tonsil stones are composed of layer after layer of living microbes.
To flush away these unappetizing specks, gargle with a specialty breath freshening rinse and drink plenty of water each day.