Common Issues With Cryptic Tonsils and What to Do

Mother and Son on Couch

You might not know much more about tonsils other than the fact that getting them removed is usually accompanied with lots of post-op ice cream. In truth, tonsils serve as important infection fighters in your body.

What Are Cryptic Tonsils?

Stanford Children's Health states that the tonsils are found at the back of your mouth on each side, and they usually begin to shrink after age 9. Your tonsils are lined with the same mucosa found in your mouth, nose and throat, and they also produce antibodies and white blood cells to filter and detect bacteria, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

They're also called cryptic tonsils due to the presence of folds on their surface, which are called tonsillar crypts. Each tonsil has many crypts, or folds, and they contain immune system structures that branch throughout each tonsil, as illustrated by Columbia University. Tonsillar crypts are a normal component of tonsil structure, and the number of these crypts varies from person to person. Ideally, they should remain free of debris; however, these little pockets can sometimes accumulate food or other particles, which can lead to other issues.

Common Issues With Cryptic Tonsils

  • Tonsilloliths

    Cryptic tonsils can trap and accumulate debris within the tonsillar crypts, which can create tonsil stones or tonsilloliths, as described by the Cleveland Clinic. Key symptoms include bad breath, odorous clumps in your mouth and throat irritation. Luckily, these can often be treated at home. Good oral hygiene and gargling with a mouthrinse after eating can prevent the stones from forming, and water irrigators can dislodge stones already in your tonsils. It's also possible to remove tonsil stones delicately with a toothbrush or cotton swab. Seek help from your dental professional if you have trouble removing a stone.
  • Tonsillitis

    Cryptic tonsils can also be affected by bacteria or viruses, which can lead to infection and inflammation, termed chronic cryptic tonsillitis. While the swelling of the tonsils isn't contagious, the National Institutes of Health explains that the virus or bacteria can spread without good hygiene practices. While there is no current treatment for viral infection, the typical treatment for bacterial infection is prescription of antibiotics. However, some patients may find they get tonsillitis again. A study in the Journal of Inflammation Research notes that researchers are looking for an alternative form of treatment to disrupt the bacteria growing on the tonsils, such as applying topical medications.

While individuals with more crypts in their tonsils may be more prone to forming stones and developing infection, there are preventive measures. Regular oral hygiene — brushing your teeth and tongue and gargling with a mouthrinse after eating — can help flush your mouth of the material that gathers in the crypts. Flossing your teeth daily can also clean bacteria from your mouth. However, if you experience recurring or lasting symptoms, you should visit your dentist or doctor.

When to Consider Tonsil Removal

Your tonsils might become an issue if you experience other chronic throat conditions, such as strep throat or sleep apnea. In these cases, an ear, nose and throat specialist may recommend removing the tonsils. Tonsillectomies are one of the most common procedures performed on children, though Harvard Medical School reports that fewer tonsillectomies have been performed on children under the age of 15 in recent years.

If you and your medical team decide that a tonsillectomy is right for your child, you can expect the surgery to be completed in about 30 minutes, as Stanford Children's Health explains. Your child will likely miss about a week of school as they recover. Adults getting their tonsils removed may need longer to fully heal, according to the Mayo Clinic.

While the tonsils are a valuable part of the immune system, cryptic tonsils can lead to issues that disrupt one's daily life. If you or your child experience symptoms that may indicate tonsil stones or tonsillitis, visit your dental provider or general practitioner to discuss the next steps for addressing your needs.

This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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