Last reviewed by Editorial Team on August 13th, 2018.
Tonsilloliths are actually tonsil stones that form in the tonsillar crypts, being constituted of calcified material. They generally appear at the level of the palatine tonsils but the medical literature has also recorded cases of lingual tonsilloliths. Their weight can vary from one person to the other and they are commonly present in multiplied numbers. Their composition is mainly calcium, with the other substances contributing to their formation being magnesium, phosphorus, ammonia and carbonate.
Many people can feel the tonsilloliths, having the sensation of a foreign object in their throat. Even though these calcifications might bring discomfort, being difficult to remove, it is important to remember that they are not dangerous for one’s health. They generally represent a primary cause for the appearance of the bad breath (condition more commonly known as halitosis). This condition is often encountered, with the small calcifications weighing approximately 0.3 grams. However, there are some people who present bigger tonsil stones, weighing around 42 grams.
In general, tonsilloliths do not cause any symptoms but, in some people, they may cause pain or discomfort upon swallowing. As it was already mentioned, the tonsil stones are responsible for the appearance of the bad breath. This condition is more frequent in adults than in children, being commonly encountered accidentally, with investigations (X-ray, CT or MRI) made for other purposes. When causing symptoms, the tonsil stones cause a metallic taste in the mouth and the sensation of the throat closing or tightening due to a foreign object. They may also cause the patient to cough or choke.
The following symptoms are encountered in those who have large tonsil stones:
- Recurrent halitosis
- Tonsil infection and inflammation
- Sore throat
- White debris
- Bad taste (back of the throat)
- Difficulty swallowing
- Sensation of foreign body in the throat.
Causes of Tonsilloliths
These are the most common causes that lead to the appearance of tonsilloliths:
- Chronic inflammation of the tonsils
- Trapping of the bacteria, dead cells and mucus in the tonsil crypts
- Repeated bouts of tonsillitis
- Post nasal drip – excess mucus trapped in the tonsil crypts
- Sinus infections
- Bacterial and viral infections in the throat area
- Autoimmune disorders
- Environmental toxins
- Increased consumption of dairy products
- Poor oral hygiene.
Why do tonsilloliths smell?
The foul odor of the tonsilloliths is caused by the increased content of the anaerobic bacteria. These practically feed on the calcifications, hence the foul odor and the appearance of the bad breath.
These are the most common methods used for the removal of the tonsilloliths:
- Removal with the tip of the tongue
- Oral irrigators
- Simple and effective method of maintaining excellent oral hygiene
- Thorough cleaning of the tonsil crypts
- Recommended – oral irrigators that connect to the sink tap (the other ones have too high a pressure – risk of rupturing the tonsils, with increased discomfort for the patient)
- The doctor will use a special instrument to scoop the tonsil stones out of the crypts
- Irrigation is required after the intervention, so as to eliminate the tonsil stones that are smaller in size
- Local excision – recommended for the tonsil stones that are larger in size
- Laser treatment
- The procedure is known as laser resurfacing and it has as main purpose the decrease of the tonsil crypt surface area
- Procedure – cryptolysis
- Performed with local anesthesia
- Type of laser – carbon dioxide
- The surface of the tonsil crypts is smoothed and vaporized
- By flattening the edges of the tonsil crypts, this procedure prevents the debris that has been trapped from hardening and transforming into tonsil stones
- Removal of the tonsils
- Recommended when other treatment measures have failed or if the bad breath persists despite all of the above treatments.
These are the things you can do in order to prevent the appearance of tonsilloliths:
- Recommended for those who suffer from the chronic inflammation of the tonsils or in those who have repeated bouts of tonsillitis
- The surgical removal of the tonsils will contribute to the prevention of tonsil stones
- Excellent oral hygiene
- By maintaining an excellent oral hygiene, you reduce the risk of developing tonsil stones and thus bad breath to a minimum
- Healthy diet
- A diet that is based on fresh fruits and vegetables comes with a low risk for tonsil stones
- You need to drink a lot of water each day, keeping the throat humidified and preventing the formation of hardened calcifications
- Giving up bad habits
- This may sound like a cliché but if you give up smoking and stop drinking alcohol, you will have a reduced chance of developing tonsil stones.
These are the most common home remedies recommended for the removal of tonsilloliths:
- Gargling with warm and salty water
- Recommended – each morning (vigorous gargling)
- Drinking carbonated beverages
- The bubbles of the carbonated beverages might contribute to the dislodging of the tonsilloliths
- Medicine dropper
- If you have managed to identify a tonsil stone in your throat, use a medicine dropper and apply the suction pressure to dislodge it from its place
- Lemon and aloe vera juice
- Lemon – vitamin C – anti-inflammatory properties
- You can mix the lemon juice with salt and water
- Gargle with the solution and then use the aloe vera juice to clean the tonsil crypts of the smaller stones
- Virgin oil with garlic
- Garlic – antibacterial properties
- Remedy for tonsil stones – chew raw garlic and gargle with olive oil
- Virgin oil – anti-inflammatory properties
- Apple cider vinegar
- Mix the apple cider vinegar with water (simple vinegar can be quite acidic, leading to a burning sensation)
- Gargle with the resulting mixture
- Repeat when necessary.
Is tonsilloliths contagious?
Even though the tonsil stones contain bacteria, this condition is not contagious. So, you can rest assured, by kissing a person with tonsilloliths, you will not start getting the same problems.