Tonsil stones, also called tonsilloliths, are hard calcified pieces of debris that become accumulated in the tonsils during normal day-to-day functions. Not everyone gets tonsil stones, however, for those that do, they can be a source of discomfort and even embarrassment.
Our tonsils are quite remarkable structures. No one really knows what their exact function in the body is. The most popular hypothesis is that they have some purpose to play in the maturation of the body’s immune system. The intriguing part though is that our body continues to function absolutely fine even if the tonsils have been removed! Thus, the conclusion that scientists have arrived to is that the tonsils are probably an evolutionary remnant from a time when the human body was not subjected to the avalanche of micro-organisms it is today.
The tonsils have crevices or crypts as a part of their structure that probably help them trap debris. These crypts are deeper in some individuals than in others. As a result, some of the debris that is accumulated in the tonsils is so deep inside that it is not cleared out and gets calcified over time. These calcified structures eventually form what are called tonsil stones.
Symptoms Of Tonsil Stones
Tonsil stones can exist without causing any symptoms whatsoever, especially if they are smaller in size. The larger tonsil stones can cause some amount of pain, irritation and redness to the affected individual.
These stones also harbor the same bacteria which are responsible for the occurrence of bad breath and thus halitosis is one of the most common complaints in people who have tonsil stones. Inflammation of the tonsils, also known as tonsillitis, can also be a recurrent problem for people suffering from tonsil stones.
The first line of treatment always involves simple home remedies that can be extremely effective. Use of salt water gargles to help flush out the bacteria and stones from the tonsil crypts is something that patients can do on their own. A toothbrush can be used to physically remove the stones from the tonsils, although some patients lack the dexterity to do this or just cannot visualize where the tonsil stones are.
In cases where these remedies have failed, an ENT specialist can remove the tonsil stones under local anesthesia. The absolute last resort for treatment is the surgical removal of tonsils. There was a time when the tonsils were removed frequently, however, the risks of general anesthesia, bleeding, infection and trauma involved has meant that a change in mindset across the medical fraternity has taken place.
Now, only those patients that continue to have severe discomfort or recurrent bouts of tonsillitis due to the presence of these tonsil stones are advised for tonsillectomy.
How To Prevent Tonsil Stones
There is no sure fire way to prevent tonsil stones, but people who have good oral hygiene have a much lower incidence of occurrence of tonsil stones. A lot of the bacteria which cause dental problems also end up colonizing the tonsils and promote the calcification of accumulated debris.
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