Inflammation of the tonsils, or commonly known as tonsillitis, is a common problem faced by young children.
It is not ordinarily encountered by adults, but that does not mean that grown-ups will never experience this. Some go on to develop tonsillitis even in their advanced years. Along with tonsillitis comes another problem, called tonsil stones.
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The usual reasons for an individual to observe bad breath is poor oral hygiene, consumption of foods that are ‘smelly’, and bad habits like smoking and drinking alcohol in large amounts. A routine cleaning of the oral cavity, brushing and flossing twice in a day, tongue scraping, and frequent gargling is actually sufficient to get a control over one’s bad breath issues. However, in some, even after doing all of these very diligently, they continue to emit foul smelling breath. In such situations, the source of the person’s bad breath will almost always be coming from their tonsil stones.
First, let us get a better understanding of what tonsils are capable of. Tonsils are prominent masses of lympho-epithelial tissues, present on either side of the throat. Their main function is to protect the body against harmful bacteria and other microorganisms that are either ingested or inhaled. On the surface of the tonsils are several pits and depressions where saliva and mucus plugs, food debris, dead cells and bacteria can become trapped, with no way out. With such waste particles sitting in there for long, they only will begin to rot and decompose, producing a very awful smell in the process.
Over time, the accumulated substances can combine and cause them to form clumps, which could be of various sizes and shapes. It is these that are known as tonsil stones, or tonsilloliths.
Tonsilloliths, as such, are a really harmless development. Other than these being the cause of bad breath, they will not cause any sickness or other ill health conditions. But yes, the person can complain of this feeling of something being stuck in their throat, which cannot be gotten rid of even with frequent gargling or coughing. This can be rather annoying for them, in fact.
Symptoms of Tonsil Stones
– Bad Breath: This is a give away sign of tonsil stones. The smell comes from the sulfur compounds released by the anaerobic bacteria that harbors on these tonsil stones.
– Throat Soreness. Tenderness and distress of the throat usually happens when the person is constantly coughing in an attempt to get the stone out of their tonsillar crypt.
– Difficulty Swallowing. Following throat soreness, comes pain and difficulty while swallowing food and liquids.
– Ear Pain. The nerve fiber that runs through the oral passage is also the one that is connected to the auditory canal. So any disease process affecting the throat will also cause pain and distress in the ear canal.
As is evident, these symptoms are very similar to that of tonsillitis, so getting an appropriate diagnosis is actually difficult. In fact, tonsil stone is the most misdiagnosed condition. And it is for this very reason, that not many are actually aware about the existence of tonsil stones, for they are often told that it is their tonsillitis that is the cause of their sickness and halitosis.
Diagnosing Tonsil Stones
Detecting tonsil stones by self is actually difficult. This is because the stones are so minute that they can easily go undetected when one tries to visually examine their throat. A medical practitioner will be able to detect some upon visual examination, but getting an x-ray or CT scan of the oral cavity will succeed in providing a more accurate diagnosis.
Usually, producing tonsil stones will not require any treatment, especially in cases where no symptom presentation is evident. But in cases where the size of the stone is big enough to cause problems like bad breath, pain while swallowing, or tonsil swelling, then some remedial measures will need to be taken.
Treating Tonsil Stones
First, attempting to eliminate tonsil stones at home is recommended.
– Tensing and relaxing the throat muscles, and rubbing the throat, where the tonsils are located, in an upward direction gently may at times prove successful in causing the stones to pop out of the tonsillar crypts.
– Tonsil stones that are evident on the tonsil surface can be scooped out with a Q-tip; those that need a little nudge, can be done so with a toothpick. Scrubbing the surface lightly using a toothbrush may also be done, but all of these will produce a gag reflex. Hence, the person will have to spend quite some time in performing these actions, do them repeatedly for the stone to be eliminated out. Sometimes, the person may also be unsuccessful in getting them out.
– Gargling with a regular mouthwash or with a warm saline solution will also assist in getting the stones out. This again, will have to be done several times in a day, and continued to be done so for many consecutive days until positive results can be got.
– The sucking action of a medicine dropper may also be utilized to suck the stones out. This usually works only in getting the small sized stones out, though.
– The use of an oral irrigation device is considered the safest manner by which one can eliminate a tonsil stone until date. These come with a curved tip that will be more effective in flushing the stones out.
However, use of these do-it-yourself methods will not always prove successful for some. Also, in certain individuals, the stones get formed on a chronic basis. Then, more severe medical treatment methods will have to be followed.
– A medical practitioner may use an oral curette to get the stone out. This is a surgical instrument that comes with a loop and a scoop tip, both of which will be convenient for tonsil stone removal. It may need administration of a local anesthetic before the removal is carried out, but will not require any hospital stay.
– Laser resurfacing of the tonsillar crypts is something performed to decrease the depth of the tonsillar crypts. This will reduce its capacity to trap debris. The method involves the use of laser beams that will target the edges of the crypts and even them out. This, of course, is done after administering anesthesia.
The above mentioned are non-invasive methods used for eliminating tonsil stones. These methods will retain the persons’ tonsils, and the recovery time required is also minimal.
– Tonsillectomy is a more aggressive treatment method, done only when the other options fail to provide positive results for the sufferer. The tonsils are removed with a surgical scalpel, and the blood vessels supplying these masses of tissues will be tied up to reduce bleeding. This is a very painful way to get rid of tonsil stones, and also the recovery time needed is more. But if there is no way out, then and only then will a tonsillectomy be performed.
Preventing Tonsil Stones
– If the person frequently experiences tonsillitis, then this should be treated on a timely basis. Swelling of tonsils will mean deeper tonsillar crypts and frequent tonsil stone production. Tonsillitis can be effectively treated with antibiotics and other minimally invasive methods. It will not always need a tonsillectomy.
– Good oral hygiene should be maintained. Dental flossing is one guaranteed way to remove trapped food particles from between the teeth, and should be done twice in a day by all those who suffer from tonsil stones. Tongue scraping and gargling should also be their daily oral care routine.
– A tonsil cleansing by the person’s regular dentist, on a weekly basis, will also prevent tonsil stone formation.
Acquiring thorough knowledge about the condition that the person is suffering from, in this case tonsil stone, and monitoring it regularly is important to get a control over their problem.
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