Tonsil Stones: What Are They, and Why Do I Get Them?

To be frank, tonsil stones are gross.  If you have never experienced them, count your lucky stars.  They feel weird, they smell bad, and they put you at risk for infections!

What are Tonsils?

Tonsils are lumps of lymphatic tissue (part of your immune system) at the back of the mouth.  They come in all sizes, and some patients have very large tonsils that can even affect breathing.  Tonsils are corrugated, meaning they are rough-textured with deep pockets and grooves on the surface.  They contain lots of white blood cells and work to keep germs from entering the body through the nose and mouth.

The palatine tonsils are the ones you can see through the mouth.  There are others, not easily visible, above the roof of the mouth and below the back of the tongue.  Inflamed or infected tonsils are often the cause of sore throats and fevers.

What are Tonsil Stones?

Tonsil stones are small pieces of hardened (calcified) material that collect in the deep pits and grooves of the tonsils.  They are very similar to the hard tartar buildup that accumulates on your teeth.  They contain bacteria, exfoliated tissue cells from the lining of your mouth, and food debris.  This collection of debris can be an irritant to the soft tissue of the tonsil, leading to swelling and redness.

What Causes Tonsil Stones?

The exact cause of tonsil stones is the collection of debris that hardens.  However, there are several risk factors that can increase the likelihood that you will suffer from tonsil stones.

  1. Groovy tonsillar anatomy – Some tonsils just have deeper pits and grooves than others. This makes them more likely to collect debris and more difficult for you to clean that debris.
  2. Inadequate oral hygiene – If there is more debris in your mouth, there is also more debris that could collect in the tonsillar grooves. More plaque and tartar buildup on the teeth increases your risk for tonsil stones.
  3. High mineral levels – Just as some patients are more prone to stones in their kidneys, gallbladders and salivary glands, they can be more prone to tonsil stones. In some cases, higher mineral levels in saliva cause quicker hardening of soft buildup into stones.

How Do I Get Rid of Them?

Whatever you do, you should NOT attempt to remove them with your fingernails or metal instruments!  You are VERY likely to cause inflammation and infection this way.

If you feel a tonsil stone in the back of your throat, the best tactic is gargling with warm salt water several times throughout the day.  This will generally dislodge the stone.  If you are prone to tonsil stones, you should add gargling salt water to your daily routine to keep the deep tonsillar grooves flushed out regularly.

If you have a tonsil stone that is not dislodging on its own and has surrounding inflammation or infection, see your medical doctor immediately!

See your dentist regularly to consistently reduce the plaque, bacteria and food debris in your mouth.  This will reduce the likelihood of developing tonsil stones.

More Questions about Tonsil Stones?

Call 940-382-1750 today to schedule a consultation with Dr. Chowning.  He can answer any questions you have about tonsil stones and help you take steps to keep them away!

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