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Tonsil Stones: Tips to Remove Them

Bad breath can be a nightmare affecting daily life. It can be discomforting and embarrassing when other people point out your condition. Severe halitosis or bad breath can take a toll on relationships impacting a person’s self esteem.

Tonsil stones are a common culprit for complaints of bad breath and nearly 30% of the population complains of some level of bad breath. Although not a fatal condition, individuals are keen to have a permanent cure for their bad breath. The ENT Clinic Singapore has qualified, patient-friendly doctors who could evaluate your condition using the latest diagnostic techniques to understand the cause behind your halitosis. Tonsil stones are managed effectively though antibiotics or surgery depending on what’s best for the patient.

What are tonsil stones?

These appear as yellow or white ‘stones’ or calcifications within the tonsil crypts. They are also called tonsilloliths. It is quite common for individuals with this condition to not even be aware that it exists. Since they are not always visible, tonsil stones can range from being the size of a small pea to that of a grape. Larger forms of tonsil stones can obstruct your tonsils, causing a more pronounced unpleasant odour.

How are tonsil stones caused?

The tonsil crypts which are crevices or pits in the tonsils harbour many forms of debris, like dead cells, food particles, saliva and mucus. With time these debris calcify to form a tonsil stone. If there is an invasion by bacteria or fungi, it can result in an infection, often yielding an unpleasant odour. The anaerobic bacteria present is particularly responsible for halitosis. Regular tonsil inflammation and irritation can lead to tonsil stones.

What are the reasons for tonsil stones?

There could be many reasons behind your tonsil stones. The occurrence is higher if you have enlarged tonsils or if you are a victim of chronic sinusitis or tonsillitis. Chronic inflammation and irritation in your tonsils can give rise to tonsil stones.

Practicing good oral hygiene is essential and helps to remove the food debris which might otherwise result in tonsil stones. Individuals with poor oral hygiene have bacteria and food particles building up as plaque, which increases soreness, resulting in tonsil stones.

What are the symptoms of tonsil stones?

It is not always easy to make a self-assessment if you have tonsil stones, but some symptoms are noticeable. Small tonsil stones might not cause any noticeable symptoms. Common symptoms for tonsil stones include:

  • Difficulty in swallowing
  • Halitosis
  • Sore-throat
  • White or yellow spots on your tonsils
  • Swelling in the tonsils
  • Cough and discomfort in ears
  • Soreness with a feeling of something being stuck in your throat

When to see your ENT specialist?

Tonsil stones are generally harmless, however if you observe swelling in your tonsils, inflammation or bleeding from your tonsils, then it warrants a visit to your tonsil specialist. In addition, having an asymmetrical tonsil, difficulty in swallowing, or sore-throat which has turned chronic with fever should not be ignored. It is best to have yourself evaluated by a doctor in the event it is more serious than originally anticipated.

Can tonsil stones cause complications?

Tonsil stones are mostly harmless, even if discomfort prevails. However, people mostly worry about the symptoms which comes with it, especially the bad breath associated with it. Tonsil stones are a signal towards poor oral hygiene and are more common in individuals who do not brush their teeth well or floss regularly. The tonsil stones which harbour bacteria can also bring about tooth cavities, gum disease and other oral infections.

How do ENT doctors diagnose tonsil stones?

The tonsil stones if visible are seen as white or yellow patches in your tonsils. This is evident through a physical examination of the throat. For tonsil stones which are found deeply embedded inside the tonsil crevices, visualisation can be done through an MRI scan or CT scan.

What are the treatment options for tonsil stones?

Below are a few options to try at home:

  • Mouth rinsing: Vigorously rinsing mouth with salt water can sometimes help to dislodge the tonsil stones. It can also help in reducing bad breath.
  • Coughing: Energetically spitting-up can loosen the stones. This helps you to spit them out.
  • Physical removal: Gently picking up manually with a cotton swab or using a waterpik can help in removal. However, rigid items like toothbrushes are not recommended as it can irritate the tonsils causing bruises, which will further induce infections and even bleeding Individuals often prefer visiting an ENT doctor to have tonsil stones treated permanently.
  • Medication: Antibiotics help in the management of tonsil stones. It can help in reducing the bacterial load in the tonsils which play a role in the growth of tonsil stones. Antibiotics however, does not offer a permanent solution.
  • Laser tonsil cryptolysis: This is a procedure done to eliminate the tonsil crypts where tonsil stones lodge. This procedure is done under local anesthesia and is a smooth process with minimal recovery time and discomfort.
  • Coblation cryptolysis: Radio waves are used to transform salt solutions into charged ions. These ions cut through tissues, reducing the tonsil crypts without any burning sensation.
  • Tonsillectomy: This is surgical removal of the tonsils. When there are severe symptoms due to tonsil stones and other options have been explored. To discuss procedures like laser treatment or use of a coblation device, an experienced ENT physician will guide patients to the right course of action.

Can tonsil stones be prevented?

There might be a recurrence of tonsil stones on a regular basis if you have had it in the past. However, some of the steps you can follow to reduce the chances of tonsil stones include:

  • Daily brushing and flossing of teeth to optimise your oral hygiene.
  • Rinsing your throat with salt water
  • Drinking plenty of fluid to keep the throat hydrated.
  • Giving-up on smoking

Tonsil stones are a common problem, bringing in a range of symptoms, while sometimes complications too can occur. If you are in discomfort or a victim of bad breath, it’s time you consulted an ENT doctor to review your condition. Together you can determine the best course of action for your tonsil stones.One popular choice in Singapore for issues related to tonsils is the ENT Clinic, with its responsive and highly experienced team of doctors and nurses. With clinics conveniently located at Mount Elizabeth Novena Specialist Centre and Gleneagles Hospital, patients have a choice as to which clinic is easier for them to access for a consultation, and receive comprehensive care.