What Are Tonsil Stones, And Why Do I Have Them?

Tonsils can get inflamed and can cause significant problems, but the fact is, these so-called “useless” tonsils that were once removed as a matter of course are in fact not useless at all. In fact, they help protect us from illness, because they are among the first lines of defense that help protect our bodies from bacterial and viral onslaughts. In fact, they trap viruses and bacteria before they can go further. However, they’re not entirely without problems, and they don’t always work like they should. In some cases, mucous, bacteria, dead cells, or other debris can get caught in tonsil crevices, thus causing so-called “tonsil stones,” or tonsiliths, which are small white or yellow colored stones.

Tonsiliths are simply “garbage” that gathers around the tonsils, like postnasal drip, bacteria, and even food. They harden into small, yellow-colored stones that can look like small white spots at the back of the throat. They may also be caused by salivary glands that are overactive, or as a reaction to dairy products.

It wasn’t too long ago that people simply thought these tonsil stones were bits of food or small bits of plaque that got caught in the back of the throat. Many of these tonsiliths are very small indeed, such that they can often be overlooked in normal examinations, and often aren’t caught until they’re seen on something like a CT scan.

But how do you know if you have tonsiliths? The symptoms are unpleasant and can be extremely embarrassing. The most common is the feeling of having something stuck in the back of your throat or a feeling of your throat tightening up. You might have a metallic aftertaste you can’t get rid of and of course, foul breath.

There are a variety of treatments for tonsil stones. Some people develop a thorough routine of gargling and frequent brushing, as well as scraping the back of the throat with a toothbrush to manually remove them. You can also reach back with your finger or a cotton swab to gently squeeze them out by brushing from the bottom of the tonsil and pressing upwards. There are many websites with more tips and ideas on how to get rid of them.

In some particularly severe cases, surgery may be recommended. Cryptolysis is a surgical procedure whereby a surgeon removes the tonsil stones with a laser, and then smoothes the surface of the tonsil so as to prevent regrowth of the tonsiliths. Even though that may seem like a good idea, remember that smoothing the surface of the tonsils may in fact negate some of the positive effects of those rough surfaces, because those rough surfaces do catch bacteria before they can do significant damage.

A last resort is that you can have your tonsils removed, of course, but this will take care of just the tonsiliths, not the bad breath. Tonsiliths can also reform even so. Surgery can be expensive and painful, and it can take you up to a month to completely recover from it.

Beyond that, it may simply be better to manage tonsiliths by practicing good oral hygiene and following a healthy diet. Cut down on your dairy intake if you have to and make sure you brush regularly, especially after meals and before bed. This will help keep food from accumulating in your throat such that tonsil stones could form. Gargling as part of oral hygiene is also a good way to keep stones at bay, as is drinking plenty of water. And all of these tips, of course, are good for your health in general — not just as preventatives for tonsiliths.