In the 1950s and 1960s, removing tonsils seemed as pedestrian to America's youth as going to the movies. Yet in the last couple decades, there has been a movement to put the brakes on the procedure.
And with good reason, since tonsil surgery can trigger a variety of complications that outweigh almost all potential benefits. During the 1990s, more than 77,000 tonsillectomies were carried out each year, according to a new BBC report. By 2008, this number had fallen to 50,000 - a 37 percent drop.
So, what are tonsils and why do they need to be taken out? The tonsils are the pair of soft glands located in the back of the throat. When you look in the mirror, you'll see those two red "balls" behind the tongue.
With a cutback on removal operations, more people are coming across what we call tonsil stones, or tonsilloliths.
You may have heard of them, but most people don't know exactly what tonsil stones are. They form when dead cells, bacteria and other mucus get trapped in the nooks and crannies of the tonsils, clumping into white bunches. When this material hardens, or calcifies, the debris turns into tonsil stones.
Since it's the tonsils' job to trap foreign bacteria and infection, they can serve as a breeding ground for potential problems. Oftentimes, when bacteria overwhelm the tonsils, it can lead to infection, bad breath and these white stones.
Most frequently, people who have tonsil stones feel as though there is something caught in the back of their throat, and may experience coughing fits, choking and difficulty swallowing.
Another telltale sign that you might have them is horribly bad breath that you can't seem to shake. Researchers discovered that 75 percent of the people who have unusually high concentrations of sulfur compounds - the chemical that produces the stink - also have tonsil stones.
If you want to check if you have them, simply look in the back of your throat. Although stones sometimes hide in the crevices of the tonsils, more often than not, they are out in the center and easily visible.
How do you get rid of the stones?
Many people use a Q-tip or bent bobby pin to dislodge the rock-like calcium deposit from the back of the throat. If you're one of these individuals, here's what to do: Open your mouth, say "ahh?" and then apply pressure onto the stone until it comes loose. You might have to angle your Q-tip and use a back and forth motion to pop it out. It is important to be very gentle in order to avoid damaging the tonsils.
Another method of eliminating tonsil stones is with a combination of nasal sinus drops and oxygenating tablets. The periodic use of an oxygenating spray will help neutralize the sulfur-producing bacteria instantly.
Oxygenating toothpastes and mouthwashes are also effective at combating the white debris. Notably, when using these products to remove tonsil stones, make sure you are diligent. In other words, consistency is key. If you only apply the treatments once per month, the stones are likely to recur. Otherwise, you'll be able to kick them for good!
Tonsil stone surgery
For people who have exhausted all other tonsil stone removal strategies and have suffered from them for many years, surgical removal may be necessary. Since the white debris is prevalent in those who have chronic tonsillitis, or inflammation of their tonsils, the only 100 percent-sure method to prevent them is through surgery.
Eliminating the stones once and for all will not only ease daily functions like swallowing and eating, but it will also get rid of halitosis. So long, tonsil breath!