Although the exact function of the tonsils is not precisely understood, it is thought that they capture bacteria and viruses, preventing them from entering the stomach. Tonsils are part of the immune system and are comprised of lymphocytes, cells that help fight disease in the body. In children, tonsils produce antibodies that help fight off respiratory illnesses. They gradually shrink by the time a person reaches puberty, although they never entirely disappear. Although tonsils may no longer function to ward off illness, they can become inflamed due to the debris and bacteria that they capture. When this occurs, tonsillitis may result. In severe and recurring cases, removal of the tonsils (tonsillectomy) may be necessary.
How do Tonsil Stones Form?
Studies have linked tonsil stones (also called tonsilloliths) to postnasal drip, medication-related dry mouth, and cases of chronic or recurrent purulent tonsillitis. Genetic factors including the size, shape, and depth of the tonsil pockets/crevices (also called crypts) may contribute to a patient's likelihood of developing tonsil stones.
Tonsil stones are caused by an accumulation of sulfur-producing bacteria and debris that become lodged in the tonsils. The debris can include food particles and mucus from postnasal drip. This matter decays in the back of the throat and collects in the small crevices on the surface of the tonsils. While tonsil stones may be or may not result from tonsil inflammation, there is evidence that they occur more frequently in people who have repeated bouts of tonsillitis. Tonsil stones typically occur in adults between the ages of 20 and 40 and affect an estimated 6 to 10% of people in the U.S. annually.
Tonsil stones are often not visible to the naked eye, because tonsils have many twists and folds that provide an excellent place for stones to grow unnoticed. The affected area attracts additional debris, and once enough has collected, it begins to calcify and turn into hard white or yellow formations. In some cases, a single large stone will form on a tonsil, while in other cases, multiple small stones will appear. Over time, you may begin coughing up small, hard whitish spheres which are stones that have dislodged from your tonsils. The stones may cause difficulty swallowing, especially when the formation is large or the tonsils have become inflamed. Tonsil stones are not as hard as real stones and will not cause damage if swallowed accidentally.
When tonsil stones combine with the volatile sulfur compounds produced by bacteria beneath the surface of the tongue, they can cause chronic and severe bad breath. If you have bad breath that does not improve with the use of regular toothpastes, mouthwashes and other products, you may have tonsil stones. In fact, the National Center for Biotechnology Information found that 75% of patients that had high amounts of sulfur in their mouth, a leading cause of bad breath, also had tonsil stones.
Video of a Tonsil Stone Being Removed
YouTube user, ihatemytonsils, posted this video of a tonsil stone in her mouth. She extracts it using her finger.
Tonsil Stone Symptoms
Some patients don't notice the formation of stones in their mouths, and the stones may remain asymptomatic, even as they harden. The size and placement of the tonsil stones dictate the symptoms to a large degree. In many patients, however, there are a number of cardinal symptoms that can indicate tonsil stones, including:
- A sore throat or feeling that the throat is restricted
- Difficulty swallowing (dysphagia)
- Coughing or choking
- Persistent ear pain due to shared nerve pathways
- Foul and long-lasting bad breath that is not related to food or morning breath
- Metallic taste in the mouth
- Visible white spots when large stones emerge from the tonsil crevices
- Tonsil inflammation and swelling
- Dizziness (rare)
The debris that comprises a tonsil stone can come from many sources, but does not require the presence of a tonsil infection to form. The organic nature of the stones makes them difficult to detect. Due to their small size and the structure of the tonsils, they may not be visible, no matter how wide you open your mouth. Tonsil stones are often found during unrelated procedures, such as x-rays or CT scans.
Preventing Tonsil Stones
Most people whose tonsils have been removed will not develop tonsil stones. However, having your tonsils removed is not a practical or optimal solution in most cases. Tonsil removal in children is relatively risk-free. However, adults who undergo tonsillectomies often experience longer recuperation times, more pain, and occasional problems resulting from adverse anesthesia reactions.
Unless tonsil stones are manually removed or prevented, bad breath will persist and may become so severe that a person is too ashamed to interact with friends or family. Fortunately, there are several things you can do to help prevent tonsil stones from forming without having your tonsils removed.
Tips for reducing the formation of tonsil stones
- Brush your teeth and tongue twice a day
- Rinse your mouth with an oxygenating mouthwash
- Drink water after a meal to wash down food particles that may remain in the throat
- Irrigate the tonsils weekly with an oral irrigator to prevent debris and bacteria from accumulating in tonsil crevices
- Clean nasal passages of mucous drainage to decrease postnasal drip, an underlying cause of tonsil stones
- Avoid a diet high in dairy products because these foods are rich in the protein that anaerobic bacteria thrive on
- Avoid excessive alcohol consumption, because alcohol is a diuretic and causes dry mouth
Dr. Katz Discusses Tonsil Stone Prevention and Treatment
TheraBreath products contain natural and oxygenating ingredients that help prevent tonsil stones and bad breath.
TheraBreath's Tonsil Stones Deluxe Kit contains everything you need to attack sulfur-producing bacteria while helping to improve overall oral health. It will help transform your mouth into a clean, oxygen-rich, pleasant-smelling environment that is free of tonsil stones. The combination of these products will effectively help reduce tonsil stones.
TheraBreath Plus Nasal-Sinus Drops help prevent tonsil stones by oxygenating the sinuses and back of the throat with the power of OXYD-8. They are also a great choice for people who suffer from bad breath due to allergies, postnasal drip, and chronic dry mouth.
These products will get you off to a great start. However, if you want to prevent bad breath and tonsil stones on a long-term basis, you must use oxygenating toothpaste, mouthwash, and a tongue cleaner to effectively neutralize the anaerobic bacteria from the very back of the tongue. This twice-daily regimen will help prevent tonsil stones from forming again.
Many patients who have followed the recommended regimen using TheraBreath oxygenating products have reported great success not only eliminating tonsil stones, but preventing them from returning. In fact, some patients have reported results in as little as one day after starting treatment.
These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.