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tonsil stones

Unveiling the Mystery of Tonsil Stones: What You Need To Know

Tonsil stones, also known as tonsilloliths, may sound like something from a horror movie — but they’re a relatively common and generally harmless occurrence. They certainly don’t constitute a dental emergency, but they can be a source of discomfort, embarrassment, and even bad breath. So, what exactly are tonsil stones, and how can you deal with them? Let’s delve into this fascinating yet often misunderstood topic.

What Are Tonsil Stones?

Tonsil stones are small, whitish or yellowish calcifications that form in the crevices of the tonsils. They comprise various substances, including bacteria, dead cells, mucus and food particles that catch in the tonsils and calcify over time. The accumulation of these materials can form small, hard masses ranging in size from a grain of rice to a pea. They are one of the many issues we can look out for at a checkup and clean.

Tonsil Stone Causes

While we can’t always determine the exact cause of tonsil stones, several factors may contribute to their formation. Because they are not a strict dental issue, let’s review some causes from a holistic health perspective.

  • Large Tonsils

People with larger tonsils or deep tonsil crypts (the pockets or crevices in the tonsils) are more likely tonsil stone ‘targets’. Think of tonsils as Petri dishes: the more surface area they have to collect debris, the more germs will multiply — and so, too, will the risk of infection and tonsil stones.

  • Chronic Tonsillitis

Individuals suffering from recurrent tonsillitis may be more ‘stone-prone’ due to swelling and inflammation, which creates pockets where debris can accumulate.

  • Poor Oral Hygiene

Inadequate oral hygiene can lead to the buildup of bacteria and debris in the mouth, contributing to tonsil stone formation.

  • Diet

Certain foods, particularly those high in calcium, may contribute to tonsil stone formation. Dairy is a common culprit, as it contains both calcium and casein; lots of casein will harden the stone-forming bacteria, mucus, food particles and dead cells in the throat. Food with husks (like popcorn) and egg yolks may also be behind your tonsil stones. 

  • Dry Mouth

Saliva is more than just a digestion aid; it’s a lubricant and literal palate cleanser. Think of a moist mouth and throat as a well-oiled machine that’s clean and functional. Ergo, if saliva levels are low, bacteria and debris can accumulate in the mouth, having nothing to flush them out. And where there’s such growth, there’s an increased risk of tonsil stone formation.

Tonsil Stone Symptoms

Tonsil stones are stealthy invaders that may not always cause noticeable symptoms. When they do, however, symptoms may include:

  • Bad Breath (Halitosis)

Tonsil stones and foul-smelling breath often go hand in hand. How can you tell it’s tonsil stones? When neither regular brushing nor mouthwash can completely fix it. 

  • Sore Throat

Got a sore throat but no other cold or flu symptoms? Do you feel a phantom lump in the throat? If so, you could well have tonsil stones.

  • Difficulty Swallowing

Larger tonsil stones may cause pain or difficulty when swallowing.

  • Ear Pain

Tonsil stones can sometimes cause referred pain to the ears.

  • White Debris

Visible white or yellowish spots on the tonsils may indicate the presence of tonsil stones.

Treatment & Prevention

While tonsil stones are generally harmless, they can cause bother and may require treatment if they cause symptoms. Here are some strategies for managing tonsil stones:

  • Good Oral Hygiene

Remember the daily routine for good oral hygiene: brush twice a day and floss once a day to keep infections — like tonsil stones — at bay. This method of preventing bacterial buildup is a practice we try to instil early in life and is a common theme in our children’s dentistry appointments.

  • Gargling

Gargling with salt water or a mild mouthwash can help dislodge tonsil stones and reduce bacteria in the mouth.

  • Manual Removal

If you have small tonsil stones, try dislodging them using a cotton swab or the back of your toothbrush — but don’t force it, lest you injure your tonsils. If it’s not working, your dentist may refer you to an ear, nose and throat specialist, as the only manual removals they tend to do are tooth extractions (or infected pulp removals, in the case of root canal treatment).

  • Antibiotics

In cases where tonsil stones are associated with chronic tonsillitis or persistent infection, a healthcare professional may prescribe antibiotics to help reduce inflammation and prevent further stone formation.

  • Tonsillectomy

For individuals who experience recurrent or severe tonsil stones, a tonsillectomy (surgical removal of the tonsils) may be best — as a last resort, of course. Should it come to this, an ear, nose and throat surgeon will perform this procedure — not a dental surgeon, whose surgical work is mainly limited to wisdom tooth extraction or dental implant placement.

Getting That Stone Gone!

Tonsil stones may not have good word of mouth, but understanding what they are and how to deal with them can help alleviate the discomfort they may cause. If you’re experiencing symptoms of tonsil stones, it’s essential to consult with a healthcare professional for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment recommendations. With proper care and attention to oral hygiene, you can effectively manage tonsil stones and enjoy improved oral health and well-being.

Experiencing Another Dental Issue?

Perhaps tonsil stones aren’t the problem at all. Maybe you’re experiencing another dental issue — or possibly dental anxiety is proving to be a strong barrier between yourself and your dental health. At Abbotsford Dental, you can sit in our dental chair jitter-free thanks to our option of sleep dentistry. Whether you want to replace worn-out teeth with virtually indistinguishable prosthetics — such as dentures, dental crowns or dental bridges — or upgrade your smile with one of our cosmetic treatments, you can count on Abbotsford Dental for a comfortable experience and a high-quality outcome. We now offer CEREC technology so that you can get your crowns in a single appointment without the wait times!

Did Someone Say Cosmetic Dentistry?

We sure did! Everyone wants a straight, beautiful smile, and we can make it happen with our cosmetic dental treatments. The fastest way to mask all dental imperfections — or improve on perfection — is to get dental veneers. Still, suppose you wish to work on the teeth themselves. In that case, you may want to explore our teeth-whitening options — which include the ever-popular Zoom Whitening method — or Invisalign, an orthodontic treatment that sets teeth straight minus the wires and brackets of braces.

Or, when all’s said and done, maybe all you need from the dentist is a filling. If you’re wondering why we would class fillings under the cosmetic dental category, the answer lies in their composition. At Abbotsford Dental, we’re done with amalgam fillings of unsightly silver and are embracing a glass and resin amalgamation. In other words, we only offer white fillings that colour-match your teeth. Talk about bringing restorative and cosmetic solutions together!

 Abbotsford Dental: A Stone’s Throw From Melbourne CBD

Whether you bemoan a tonsil stone or two or there’s some other dental work to do, drop into Abbotsford Dental, and we’ll get you sorted out. Located in Abbotsford, we are a stone’s throw from Melbourne CBD and many inner-city locations, such as Fitzroy, Collingwood and Kew, to name a few. If you’re ready to make your appointment, head over to our online booking portal or phone in the old-fashioned way: (03) 9410 1077. We can’t wait to see your pearly white grin this side of town!


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