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Trouble with Tonsil Stones and Bad Breath

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Medically Reviewed By Colgate Global Scientific Communications

If you're experiencing bad breath, mouth irritation, or notice a white spot at the back of your throat, you might have tonsil stones, also known as tonsilloliths, causing tonsil stones bad breath. But is it something to worry about? Not everyone develops tonsil stones and many people who have them aren't bothered by them, but if you are concerned about the white formations in your tonsils, here is everything you need to know about tonsil stones.

What Causes Tonsil Stones?

Tonsils play a crucial role in supporting your immune system by filtering out viruses and bacteria that can enter the body through the mouth. If you’re experiencing frequent tonsil infection, small pits in the tonsils might become filled with hard, white substances resembling tiny stones. Unfortunately, these stones can trap bacteria, leading to bad breath from tonsil stones and increasing the likelihood of recurring tonsillitis.

Despite their protective function, tonsils are coated with the same mucus that lines the inside of the mouth, featuring numerous pits and crypts. The presence of these crypts varies from person to person, and it is within these spaces that bits of food, bacteria, and other debris can become trapped, eventually forming tonsil stones. Regular inflammation or irritation in the tonsils heightens the risk of developing tonsil stones.

Here are some factors that can increase the risk of developing tonsil stones:

  • Larger crypts: Having naturally larger or deeper crypts in the tonsils makes it easier for debris to get trapped and stones to form

  • Frequent tonsillitis: Repeated inflammation of the tonsils can irritate the crypts and make them more likely to harbour debris.

  • Poor oral hygiene: Not brushing and flossing regularly can allow bacteria to build up in the mouth and throat, increasing the chance of it getting trapped in the tonsils.

  • Dry mouth: Saliva helps wash away debris from the tonsils. If you have a dry mouth, this natural cleaning process can be less effective.

  • Certain foods: For some people eating dairy products or other sticky foods can contribute to tonsil stones. 

Do Tonsil Stones Cause Bad Breath?

Many people with tonsil stones are asymptomatic. According to a study published in the Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research in 2013, tonsil stones are infrequent and generally quite small. Although many individuals with tonsil stones may not exhibit any symptoms of tonsil stones and might not even be aware of their presence, bad breath and other signs and symptoms can be connected to them.

Tonsil stones have the potential to contribute to chronic bad breath also known as halitosis. The foul-smelling compounds produced by the bacteria in tonsil stones can be challenging to eliminate. Regular oral hygiene practices alone may not be enough for persistent tonsil stones smell; a sign of the strong bacteria inside. 

While maintaining good oral hygiene, such as brushing and flossing, can help minimise bacteria in the mouth, additional measures like gargling with warm salt water or using an antimicrobial mouthwash may be necessary to address the underlying cause of tonsil stones bad breath. 

According to a review published in 2014 in Otolaryngology Head and Neck Surgery, tonsil stones might be linked to about 3% of bad breath cases. The review also emphasised the need for further research to determine the extent to which tonsil stones and the tonsils play a role in causing bad breath.

How to Avoid Tonsil Stones?

Many people who keep getting tonsil stones want to get rid of them once and for all and you can reduce the chances of getting annoying tonsil deposits by developing good oral hygiene habits and making some lifestyle changes. These habits help control bacteria and stop the stones from forming. 

Here are some tips:

  • Drink plenty of water: Staying hydrated helps maintain a moist mouth, preventing the accumulation of food debris in tonsil crypts.

  • Gargle with warm salt water regularly: This practice helps in loosening and removing food particles and bacteria from the tonsil crypts.

  • Practice good oral hygiene: Brushing twice daily and flossing once daily are essential to remove plaque and bacteria from teeth and gums, preventing migration to the tonsils.

  • Eat a balanced diet: A healthy diet low in dairy and high in fruits and vegetables reduces inflammation in the body, contributing to the prevention of tonsil stones.

  • Avoid smoking and drinking alcohol: Smoking and alcohol can dry out the mouth and irritate the tonsils, increasing susceptibility to tonsil stones.

  • Use a humidifier at night: Dry air irritates the tonsils, making them more prone to tonsil stones. A humidifier maintains moist air, preventing this irritation.

  • Get frequent dental cleanings: Regular dental cleanings remove plaque and bacteria, preventing their migration to the tonsils.

Following these tips can help reduce the risk of developing tonsil stones and keep your breath fresh.

How To Get Rid of Bad Breath From Tonsil Stones?

Tonsil stones can be annoying and embarrassing if they lead to bad breath. However, practising good oral hygiene, using at-home treatments, and seeking professional care when needed can help address the issue. Maintaining a clean, healthy mouth is key for both getting rid of current tonsil stones and preventing them from recurring. With some diligent effort, it is possible to keep tonsil stones and associated bad breath at bay.

Here are some tips to help get rid of tonsil stones bad breath: 

  • Follow proper oral hygiene habits: Brush and floss your teeth to eliminate bacteria and plaque that contribute to bad breath.

  • Consider using an antibacterial mouthwash: An antibacterial mouthwash can help reduce bacteria in the mouth, combating bad breath associated with tonsil stones.

  • Seek professional dental cleanings: Regular cleanings by a dentist can remove built-up bacteria and debris, alleviating bad breath.

  • Explore tongue cleaning: Cleaning the tongue can eliminate bacteria that contribute to bad breath, especially when tonsil stones are present.

  • Address underlying causes: If bad breath persists, consider discussing with a healthcare professional to identify and treat any underlying issues.

If tonsil stones are causing significant discomfort or other problems, it is better to consult a dental professional. While less common, healthcare professionals may recommend a tonsillectomy—a surgical procedure for tonsil removal—as the most effective way to prevent tonsil stones and address related issues. Although tonsils contribute to the immune system, they can be removed if problematic, similar to the appendix.