Tonsil stones, otherwise known as tonsilloliths, are calcified structures that develop inside the tonsils, usually inside its crevices and crypts. These occur due to the accumulation of debris (food remains, dead cells, etc) and heavy mucus inside the tonsils. Tonsil stones are packed with aerobic and anaerobic bacteria, the latter being responsible for the release of volatile organic compounds. Frequent build up of debris inside the tonsils, and consequent formation of tonsilloliths, can eventually lead to chronic halitosis. In this article we will talk about predisposing risk factors and the most effective remedies for tonsil stones and bad breath.
Those who suffer or have suffered recurrent throat infections in the past are considered to be at a higher risk, the main predisposing factor being permanently enlarged or scarred tonsil crypts, caused by chronic inflammation and pus. Therefore, who have their tonsils infected and swollen on a regular basis are at higher risk of developing tonsil stones.
Large tonsilloliths may feel like protruded foreign bodies within the tonsil crypts that may cause difficulty swallowing, bad breath and other symptoms such as ear ache, altered taste (metallic taste at the back of the mouth), sore throat, pain and swelling of the tonsils. On the other hand, the majority of people with tonsil stones feel no other symptoms other than constant bad taste and oral malodour.
In order to treat and manage the symptoms effectively, including bad breath, there are many natural remedies for tonsil stones that can be used at home, not only to prevent the formation of calcified matter inside the tonsillar crypts and folds, but also to help remove stones that are already present, before they become too large. In the majority of cases, tonsil stones don’t need to be surgically removed since they are neither life threatening nor a major health concern, as long as they remain small enough. Still, they are a nuisance and a very common cause of bad breath. Most people are unaware of them, and don’t know that the main cause of their oral malodours is the debris that is hiding inside their tonsils.
Regular use of saline water gargles is a natural prevention method that is very easy and effective, not only to prevent tonsil stones and bad breath but also to help dislodge any existing tonsilloliths. People have gargled with salt water for thousands of years, since it helps cleanse the mouth, it helps loosen thick mucus, and it helps ease cold symptoms, and it helps prevent infections. These properties come very handy when it comes to preventing and dislodging tonsil stones, since the accumulation of mucus and bacteria plays a very active role in the formation of tonsilloliths. Gargling often and for a few minutes after meals will slow down or even prevent tonsil stone formation completely. The salt water reaches and cleanses the deep recesses of the throat and tonsillar area where sulfur producing bacteria thrive and develop.
In addition, improving oral hygiene is a must in order to help prevent the formation of tonsil stones. Regular tooth brushing, tongue scraping, flossing and gargling removes debris and bacteria from the mouth, and this can help prevent the accumulation and growth of microorganisms and debris inside the tonsils. It is also good practice to avoid eating just before going to bed (leave two hours at least, ideally).
Another possible remedy for tonsil stones and bad breath is to reduce the amount of dairy consumed each day. These foods are rich in calcium, phosphates and magnesium which can mineralize within the oral environment thus precipitating the formation of calcium stones within the tonsils. Moreover, dairy products, due to their sticky nature and composition (protein), are loved by bacteria and microorganisms which in turn may aggravate the condition.
Consumption of calcium is really important in certain groups, such as children and pregnant women, so don’t completely remove dairy from your diet unless you consult it with a dietitian or health professional. Limit the intake of dairy products only if no other methods work, or on the advice of a professional. Another option is to simply be more meticulous with your oral hygiene after eating a meal that contains high amounts of dairy. Gargle for longer and clean the inside of the tonsils thoroughly with one or more of the following methods.
When it comes to extracting existing stones – small or medium sized – or the goo that accumulates in the tonsils before a tonsillolith forms, there are several techniques that can be used at home as well. After gargling, gently "squeezing" the muscles around the tonsils can sometimes dislodge the stones and they just pop out. In addition, using a clean finger to gently massage the tonsillar area, from bottom to top, and then from top to bottom (starting from the soft palate), can help remove a few more stones and goo. Using a cotton swab (q-tip) to gently press on the areas near the crypts can also work quite well.
Warm water salt solutions, as mentioned earlier, as well as gargling with herbal infusions (with antibacterial properties) can be effective to help prevent as well as extract tonsil stones. In the same way, regular oral irrigation of the tonsillar area and crypts is another remedy that can help extract tonsil stones as well as prevent them. Oral irrigation can done with a curved-tip syringe or a low-pressure oral irrigator (ideally one that can be connected to the tap). Medium or low pressure settings are not recommended as they can cause bleeding and permanent damage to the tonsil’s structures and delicate tissues.
If the stones have grown too big or numerous, medical intervention may be necessary. A surgeon can remove the tonsilloliths just using local anesthetic. However, if nothing else is done, the already enlarged tonsil crypts will tend to easily accumulate debris again, and hence the cycle will start all over, with large or numerous stones forming quickly after the operation. Laser resurfacing is a modern procedure that is used to reduce the surface area of tonsillar crypts, or remodel it, so that there is less risk of tonsil stone formation.
These are very effective procedures carried out in specialized clinics and for this you should be referred by your family doctor or an ENT specialist. Finally, surgical removal of the tonsils – known as tonsillectomy – is the most extreme remedy for tonsil stones, for cases where no other treatment or prevention method has worked. A tonsillectomy is a serious operation and it is only advised for severe cases where there are chronic infections involved, frequent formation of large stones, causing difficult swallowing, pain, pus discharge, distress and very foul bad breath.
Concluding, there are many natural remedies for tonsil stones that can be used at home, to prevent their formation and help extract them. It is recommended to always use preventative measures and regular irrigation at low pressure to avoid the formation of large stones and hence the need for surgical intervention, and this way keep bad breath at bay too.
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