According to U.S. News and World Report, summertime is when most kids get tonsillectomies. This procedure typically gets recommended when the glands at the back of the throat become infected, swollen and peppered with tonsil stones. Yet many oral health experts believe that tonsillectomies rarely need to be performed at all.
And even apparently cutting-edge, non-invasive procedures to remove the tonsil stones themselves are, as we'll demonstrate, unnecessary and questionably effective.
Why tonsils can usually stay where they are
About 500,000 kids will have their tonsils removed this year, according to a HealthDay News report. Dr. Laura Cozzi, an ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist, told the news source that some of the signs that a child needs a tonsillectomy include white specks on the glands (i.e. tonsil stones) and persistent bad breath.
However, pediatrician Megan Westbrook of Washington State's Everett Clinic told the Daily Herald that tonsillectomies are rarely needed anymore. She explained that while the surgery was popular during the 1950s, it fell out of favor later on, after studies showed it provided little or no benefit.
Westbrook explained that, today, the only children who should get their tonsils out are those with tonsillar abscesses, antibiotic-resistant strep throat infections or trouble breathing and swallowing.
Are there alternatives?
The main alternative for a tonsillectomy is a simple course of antibiotics. However, if it's just tonsil stones that are the primary problem, even that level of treatment isn't necessary. Instead, children and adults alike can gargle three times a day with a specialty alcohol-free rinse, one designed to oxygenate the tonsils and loosen stones.
This is the simplest and most effective solution available for tonsilloliths. Even the newest procedures for tonsil stone removal are generally overcomplicated, ineffective or both.
Case in point: In a recent issue of the Ear, Nose and Throat Journal, a pair of ENTs unveiled a new, non-laser-based treatment for removing tonsil stones. It's an outpatient procedure called coblation cryptolysis (CC), and it reportedly works by using radio waves to excite a saltwater solution, evidently loosening the stones.
That's great, except (a) it's unnecessary, since specialty breath freshening rinses "excite" such stones with much more vigor, and (b) it's unclear if CC even works.
Look at how the procedure is described in the official press release:
- A novel and effective approach to eradicate tonsil stones.
Now compare that to the language used in the actual study:
- A novel and potentially effective approach in the treatment of tonsil stones.
See the difference? Hmm. Doesn't sound very promising now, does it? So, if you have bad breath and tonsil stones, simply gargle them away with an alcohol-free rinse. Don't resort to untested (or unneeded) procedures.