If you’re experiencing bad breath coupled with an unusual, metallic taste in your mouth, you may have tonsil stones. Although this problem is rarely talked about – likely due to the embarrassing symptoms that it causes – it is not that uncommon. According to research, between 6 and 10 percent of people develop tonsil stones each year, most of them young adults who have recently suffered from tonsillitis.
Tonsil stones are generally not dangerous, but they can be very unpleasant. If your tonsil stones are giving you trouble, you may be able to remove them yourself without having to go to the doctor. Before we explain how to get rid of tonsil stones at home, let’s look into their main causes and symptoms.
What Are Tonsil Stones?
Tonsil stones are hard formations located on your tonsils. Also known as tonsilloliths, they occur when dead cells, food debris, and other particles found in your mouth become trapped on the tonsils. Over time, all these particles will harden and form concretions. These concretions are either white or yellow, and they’re usually so small that most people don’t even notice they have them on their tonsils.
Undiagnosed and/or untreated tonsil stones don’t normally cause major health complications. However, if you fail to address the problem on time, your tonsils may swell and develop a very unpleasant smell. That’s because your tonsils help your body fight infections by trapping bacteria, viruses, and other threats that enter through your mouth and then teaching your immune system how to properly respond to them. If you have tonsil stones, these bacteria can settle in your tonsils and cause odor as a result.
In addition to bad breath and swelling, common symptoms of tonsil stones also include a sore throat and trouble swallowing. Many patients also experience a persistent cough, while in some cases ear pain may also occur. The intensity of the symptoms will depend on the size of your tonsil stones. As a rule, small stones tend to be asymptomatic, whereas large tonsil stones almost always cause noticeable symptoms.
Why Might You Want to Remove Tonsil Stones?
Although tonsil stones are fairly harmless, they tend to give out a very unpleasant smell. According to a 2014 study, about 3 percent of all cases of halitosis (i.e. bad breath) are caused by tonsil stones. No matter how good your oral hygiene routine, brushing your teeth two to three times a day and using mouthwashes is often not enough to eliminate the bad breath.
In addition, if your tonsil stones are larger than usual, they could cause a severe case of dysphagia (i.e. trouble swallowing). If untreated, this problem could lead to serious complications, ranging from malnutrition and dehydration to aspiration pneumonia. In children, particularly severe cases of dysphagia could potentially halt development, both physical and emotional.
Removing tonsil stones could help get rid of these unpleasant symptoms and prevent any unwanted complications. If you’ve decided to remove your tonsil stones, you can either try and do it yourself or ask your doctor to recommend the best treatment option.
How to Get Rid of Tonsil Stones at Home
Many tonsil stones don’t cause any symptoms and thus don’t require any special treatment either. If you are experiencing one or more symptoms of tonsil stones, you might want to try removing them yourself. In this section, we’ll look into some tried and tested methods that allow you to do so.
Most people discover they have tonsil stones after they cough up one of them. When that happens, you should try coughing energetically for a few minutes to see if that will help you loosen and remove the other stones, too. If that doesn’t seem to do the trick, you can try one of the other at-home methods.
Salt Water Gargling
Salt water gargling is a traditional home remedy that helps soothe your throat, reduce discomfort, and dislodge stuck tonsil stones. In addition, salt water may also alter the chemical environment in your mouth, which could help you get rid of the associated odor. Take an 8-ounce glass of warm water, dissolve about 1/2 teaspoon of salt in it, and gargle vigorously for a few minutes.
Use Your Tongue
If your tonsil stones are causing bad breath but aren’t painful to touch, you may try dislodging them using your tongue. Gargle your mouth with salt water for a few minutes to create a watery environment and then try to either swallow the stone or push it out with your tongue.
Use a Cotton Swab
Many tutorials on the internet recommend using a toothbrush to remove tonsil stones, but that might not be such a good idea. The tonsil tissue is very delicate and any accidental scratches could result in bleeding and infections. If you absolutely must use a physical object to try and try and remove tonsil stones, you should use a cotton swab.
Use a Water Flossing Device
Sometimes the force of water alone is enough to remove the particles that stick to the walls of your mouth, and the same rule applies to tonsil stones. Use a water flossing device in combination with a cotton swab to see if this will work for you. Make sure to only water floss for a few seconds at a time to avoid choking on water.
How to Get Rid of Tonsil Stones Surgically
If your tonsil stones are larger than normal, your doctor will likely recommend a surgical procedure. The most common options include the following:
- Laser tonsil cryptolysis is the surgical removal of the crypts where tonsil stones are hidden. This particular surgery is performed with a laser and requires only local anesthesia.
- Coblation cryptolysis uses radio waves to convert a salt solution (similar to saltwater) into ions. Those ions then travel to the tonsil crypt where they cut through tonsil stones.
- Tonsillectomy involves the removal of one or both tonsils. This was once a fairly common procedure, but it isn’t performed as often anymore. Very few doctors would recommend the complete removal of tonsils just to get rid of tonsil stones. This is typically reserved for the most severe cases and only after all other options have been exhausted.
Since tonsil stones are caused by bacteria, your doctor may also prescribe an antibiotic to manage your symptoms. This is only a temporary solution, however, because it only halts the development of tonsil stones and doesn’t remove them.
A Final Thought
Tonsil stones are routinely treated and are usually nothing to worry about. If you start experiencing tonsil stones more frequently, proper hydration in combination with optimal oral hygiene should be enough to solve the problem. However, if even that doesn’t help, you should consult with your doctor in order to identify the cause of your tonsil problems and determine the best way to address it.