Monday, December 14, 2009

What Are Tonsil Stones And Do They Cause Bad Breath

A large tonsillolith taken from my tonsil cavi...Image via Wikipedia

Tonsils can get inflamed and can cause significant problems, but the fact is, these so-called "useless" tonsils that were once removed as a matter of course are in fact not useless at all. In fact, they help protect us from illness, because they are among the first lines of defense that help protect our bodies from bacterial and viral onslaughts.

In fact, they trap viruses and bacteria before they can go further. However, they're not entirely without problems, and they don't always work like they should. In some cases, mucous, bacteria, dead cells, or other debris can get caught in tonsil crevices, thus causing so-called "tonsil stones," or tonsiliths, which are small white or yellow colored stones.

Why do they occur? Simply, they come because "garbage" gathers around your tonsils, and when that garbage (things like postnasal drip, food particles, and bacteria) gets caught in tonsil crevices, it hardens into small yellow colored stones that can look like white spots at the back of the throat. Overactive salivary glands and a reaction to dairy products can also cause tonsiliths.

Not long ago, people simply thought these tonsiliths were bits of food or bits of plaque that got caught in the back of the throat -- and indeed, they are very small, such that normal physical examinations may not catch them; in some cases, they won't be seen until a more refined test is used, like a CT scan.

Do you have tonsiliths? That depends; symptoms can be embarrassing and unpleasant indeed. If you have tonsil stones, you can feel as though something is stuck in the back of your throat or that your throat is somehow "tightening." You may have a metallic taste in your mouth, and you'll almost always have chronic bad breath.

You can treat tonsil stones, though, and in many cases you can do it from home. Gargle thoroughly and establish a good oral hygiene routine, which can help take care of them. You can reach the back of your throat with your finger, a Q-tip, or the back of your toothbrush, and gently scrape them away. You can squeeze them out by brushing gently upwards with your brush, finger, etc., pressing gently as you do so. There are other methods you can get rid of them with, too, and you can find them by Googling, "tonsil stones," or "tonsiliths" on the Internet.

If tonsiliths are particularly severe, surgery may be recommended. Cryptolysis involves having a surgeon remove tonsiliths with a laser, and then smoothing tonsil surfaces so that tonsiliths can't regrow. Remember, though, even though this may seem like a good idea, when the tonsil surfaces are smoothed, this negate some of the benefits of the rough surfaces' catching of bacteria and other foreign matter as a means to prevent infection and so on.
A last resort is that you can have your tonsils removed, of course, but this will take care of just the tonsiliths, not the bad breath. Tonsiliths can also reform even so. Surgery can be expensive and painful, and it can take you up to a month to completely recover from it.

Among the less drastic and arguably better ways to manage tonsiliths is to practice good oral hygiene and follow a healthy diet. Reduce dairy intake if necessary and brush your teeth after you eat and especially before bed. This will keep food from possibly accumulating that could cause tonsiliths to form. Gargle as part of your oral hygiene, and make sure you drink plenty of water, too. This will help keep tonsiliths from forming, but these tips are also good for your health in general.

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