If you suffer from bad breath but can’t pinpoint the cause, a little-known problem with your tonsils may be the culprit.
Most people probably don’t think much about their tonsils or even what purpose they serve. But for some, the tonsils are a continuing source of annoyance and ache. Small calcium deposits — called tonsil stones — can build up regularly. They’re not a serious health hazard, but they can harden and grow, and they sometimes need attention.
What Do the Tonsils Do?
Your tonsils help fight infection. The small, soft, fleshy bits of tissue sit at the back of the mouth on both sides. They can help detect and filter bacteria and viruses that enter through the mouth. Tonsils do this by producing white blood cells and antibodies.
Your tonsils are covered with the same mucous membrane, or mucosa, that lines your mouth, nose and throat. It’s the crevices, or crypts, in your tonsils’ mucosa that may lead to problems.
Signs of Tonsil Stones
When food or debris get caught in the crevices of your tonsils, they sometimes harden or calcify, forming temporary calcium deposits.
These deposits are often small, invisible to the naked eye and harmless. Some people may not have any symptoms.
For others, however, tonsil stones cause noticeable problems. The most common signs and symptoms are:
- Bad breath
- Throat irritation
- A whitish node or bump on your tonsil
Bad breath and throat irritation can also be signs of tonsillitis. But tonsillitis is caused by viruses or bacteria and generally causes red, inflamed tonsils, as well as fever, headache and other symptoms.
Tips for Prevention and Treatment
Tonsils stones develop from food and other substances that get stuck in the tonsils. The best way to prevent them is to keep your tonsils free of debris.
Brush your teeth and tongue thoroughly, and gargling after eating to help prevent any buildup. Water picks help to flush out the mouth as well, which may help dislodge tonsil stones near the surface.
Many people self-treat tonsil stones at home, removing them with a toothbrush or cotton swab. If the deposits dislodge easily, removing them yourself generally won’t present a problem. For those with recurring, troublesome tonsil stones, a tonsillectomy is sometimes the best option. Outpatient surgery to remove the tonsils will eliminate any problems they cause.
If you believe you may have a problem with frequent tonsil stones, talk to us about it at your next dental visit. We can offer advice on how to treat the problem, and in some cases, refer you to a specialist.
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