What Are Tonsil Stones — And How To Get Rid Of Them

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what are tonsil stones
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When I was 9 years old, I had my adenoids removed and tubes put in my ears. I remember waking up after the surgery desperately excited to receive the ice cream that I was so sure would be mine. When I asked my mom about it, she just laughed. "Oh, honey," she said, "that's just something for kids who have their tonsils out!"

I didn't get it; it didn't seem fair. Surely my ear surgery earned me at least a cone of vanilla. I've been really lucky when it comes to my tonsils and health, but many people aren't that lucky. One of the most common afflictions of the tonsils is tonsil stones. 


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What are tonsil stones and are there ways for how to get rid of tonsil stones? Well, it sounds crazy and archaic and maybe like something someone made up, but tonsil stones are very real and you might already have them.

Let's break down what they are, how to treat them, and how to make sure you never get them again.

What are tonsils?

Tonsil stones are a condition that affects, you guessed it, your tonsils. While some people have their tonsils removed during their childhood, doctors are trying to avoid doing this more and more. Why? Because it turns out that tonsils actually play a pretty serious role when it comes to your overall health. 

Your tonsils are a big line of defense. They work in tandem with the rest of your immune system, preventing infections from making their way down your throat. While people do have them removed, doctors today prefer using antibiotics to treat illnesses like chronic strep, rather than remove what could eventually prove to be a critical resource your body uses to keep you well. 

What are tonsil stones? 

Tonsil stones are calcium or other mineral deposits that form either on the surface of your tonsils or inside of the tonsil itself. While the "stone" itself isn't technically a rock like you'd find outside, they can still be rough and strong, like tiny little pebbles in the absolute last place where you'd ever want them: inside of your throat. Can you say, guuuulp?  

How do you get them?

I'm not gonna lie to you: this part is MAD gnarly. Okay, so I don't know how you imagined your tonsils, but it's probably wrong. Your tonsils aren't slick and smooth; they are made up of wrinkled lines and valleys that are known in the medical community as "tonsil crypts." 

Throughout your day all of the mucus, food residue, and really anything else that happens to come into your mouth gets trapped in these crypts. For most people, simple daily dental hygiene will keep tonsil stones at bay by cleaning out this debris, but if you have poor brushing habits, you might be out of luck. 


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Tonsil stones can also be caused by excess scar tissue formed by recurring strep throat. They are also more common if you happen to have a particularly large set of tonsils. Sometimes, just the way your tonsils are designed at birth is going to make you more likely to get them. It's just one of those things. 

Are they painful?

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Many people never notice that they have tonsil stones. That's because these pernicious little suckers aren’t always easy to see and they can range from being rice-sized to the size of a particularly plump grape. 

However, if the stones grow very large or if the tonsils swell from irritation or infection caused by the stones, you can feel some pain. What's more common, however, is that a person notices that their breath has a bad or strange smell to it — that's the tonsil stones sticking up the joint!

If you experience pain or swelling or smell some bad ol' stank, that's the point where it's time to consult a doctor about what to do treat your case of tonsil stones. 

How can you get rid of them? 

There are several different ways to get rid of your tonsil stones but I'm going to say this right: oh my god please don't try to remove them yourself! It might look easy, you might have years of zit-popping skills under your belt, but the truth is that your tonsils are sensitive and you're already dealing with a potential infection. Stop poking them and go to a doctor! 

Gargling with salt water and forcing gentle coughs can help dislodge smaller tonsil stones. For others, you may need to see your doctor who can treat them with antibiotics or with a laser and salt water treatment. If you get tonsil stones all the time, your doctor might recommend that you consider a surgery to eliminate the crypts on your tonsils, or just have them removed altogether. 


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Rebecca Jane Stokes is a writer living in Brooklyn, New York with her cat, Batman. For more of her work, check out her Tumblr.