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Symptoms and Treatments of Tonsil Stones and Bad Breath

Tonsillolith in mouth

Tonsil stones, also known as tonsilloliths or tonsilar calculi, are accumulations of calcified material in the back of your throat. They are generally made up of a mixture of bacteria, calcium and old food and a combination of different kinds of sulfurs. They cause a person to have halitosis (bad breath) and can even result in pain or swelling in the back of the throat if they're really big or if there are many of them.

There is no definitive evidence as to what causes tonsil stones. However, these small calcified stones that are produced and stored in the folds of the tonsils appear to be a problem for many people. Often, those that deal with symptoms of tonsil stones wonder for years what is wrong with them and why they are coughing up on occasion. And if there is such a thing as tonsil stones, then why the small particles smell so awful.

If you have been wondering about small particles coming out of the back of your throat, here are some ways to tell if they are tonsil stones:
  • Bad Breath. Tonsil stones are usually accompanied by chronic bad breath. One study found that 75% of people with stones had very high quantities of bad smelling sulfur compounds in their breath. This is a difficult situation for many who struggle to find ways to be social, even though they know others may discover their bad breath.
  • White Stones. Tonsil stones can often be diagnosed by white debris being dislodged from the back of one's throat. This can sometimes happen unexpectedly when a person coughs, but sometimes these small stones must be coaxed out with gentle pressure to relieve discomfort.
  • Tonsils Swelling. Tonsil swelling can be a direct result of these stones. Because the stones are made of calcified debris, they tend to be somewhat rigid, and may cause irritation to the tonsil.
  • Difficulty Swallowing. Some people with tonsil stones describe a feeling of having something stuck in their throat and not being able to figure out what it is. This sensation may cause them to be unable to eat or drink without discomfort. While none of these symptoms are life threatening, many people search for answers on what causes the stones and what can be done to get rid of them. Treatments vary from home remedies and medical procedures to daily preventive measures.
tonsillolith close up
A close view of tonsillolith with a ruler

Home Remedies

Many online discussions can be located detailing the ways that people have chosen to treat their own tonsil stones. One preferred method is to use two q-tips, one to hold the flap of the tonsil out of the way and the other to apply pressure. By doing this, the tonsil stone is often dislodged and can be disposed of.

Others have found that they are most able to clear their tonsil stones by using water. This may be in the form of a water pick on a low setting aimed at the offending tonsil, or even a syringe full of water aimed at the site. No matter what at home method is used to clean out tonsil stones, there seems to be agreement across the board that it is a disturbing procedure that most people would rather not have to deal with.

Medical Treatments

Several medical remedies are available to alleviate discomfort and other issues from these stones. For those who may be suffering with a particularly large stone, it may be necessary for a procedure to be done in which a doctor would use a cutter to remove the stone piece by piece. After this type of procedure, the area would be rinsed and cleaned well.

Another less invasive technique is to have the surface of the tonsils laser treated. By doing this under local anesthetic, the tonsils are smoothed leaving fewer places for the bacteria and debris to build. The most invasive medical treatment involves removal of the tonsils altogether. This is not done as much today as in the past because it is now known that the tonsils are an integral part of one’s immune system.

How to Prevent Tonsil Stones

The best thing, when dealing with tonsil stones, is to prevent them in the first place. Many who have dealt with tonsil stones have found that treating the problem is better than simply treating the symptoms. By determining what is causing the stones to build up in the tonsils, it is possible to stop the process.

Much success has been found by those who have opted for an oral treatment solution. However, avoid using alcohol based products like mouthwashes and toothpastes, as the alcohol can easily irritate any tonsil stones you may already have. Instead, pick up oxygenating toothpaste and mouthwash.

These include products such as oxygenating toothpaste and mouthwash, sinus drops and even throat spray. By using these products, bacteria are prevented from growing at the back of the mouth and tonsil stones are prevented as well. By trying a recommended daily routine consisting of these solutions, you may find you have no more need for home remedies or medical solutions.

Brushing the tongue is another effective way to prevent the build up of tonsil stones. An even better idea is to purchase a tongue scraper that is made specifically for that job. This way you will scrape away any crud that could otherwise form into tonsil stones.

Image sources:

Glacko2021, CC-BY-SA-3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Tonsillolith, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons