Can Tonsil Stones Cause Bad Breath?
Let’s take a step back and answer the first question you’re probably asking—what are tonsil stones? Sometimes recognized by their technical name of tonsilloliths, tonsil stones are a buildup of particles, like food, left behind in your mouth that gets stuck in your tonsils. Sounds pretty appetizing, right?
These pesky little deposits may seem to appear out of nowhere, but a side effect is that tonsil stones cause bad breath. Since there is no real cure, unless you want to have your tonsils surgically removed, it’s important to know how to recognize and treat tonsil stones to help prevent having bad breath because of them.
More about your tonsils
If you still have tonsils, they are the small, oval-shaped mounds of tissue on each side of the back of your throat. Normal tonsils are about the same size and have a healthy pink color. Tonsils work as part of your body’s immune system and help prevent bacteria and viruses from entering your body through the mouth.
What causes tonsil stones?
Tonsils can have deep pockets and folds where food particles, mucus and other substances in your mouth can get stuck. Tonsil stones form when those trapped particles start to harden and look like white or yellow masses.
Tonsil stones may cause:
- Difficulty swallowing
- Ear pain
- Sore throat
- Tonsil swelling
Unlike stones that develop in other parts of the body, tonsil stones are not an underlying sign of a serious illness. Tonsil stones can range in size and smaller stones usually go undetected.
Symptoms of tonsil stones
Not everyone experiences symptoms of tonsil stones. If you do have symptoms, you may notice:
- A feeling as if something is stuck in your throat
- Pressure or pain in your ears
- White dots or specks on your tonsils
- Lingering sore throat
How do tonsil stones cause bad breath?
It’s true, tonsil stones cause bad breath. That’s probably one of the most noticeable symptoms, especially to other people around you. Tonsil stones contain bacteria that create volatile sulfur compounds (VSCs), which cause foul-smelling breath.
“In one study of patients with a form of chronic tonsillitis, a test was used to measure VSCs. The researchers found that 75% of the people who had abnormally high concentrations of these compounds also had tonsil stones.” WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Michael Friedman, DDS on January 15, 2018
How to Get Rid of Tonsil Stones
If your tonsil stones aren’t visible or causing any pain, they don’t need to be treated. If you have larger tonsil stones or are experiencing discomfort, you can try a few home remedies:
- Gargling with warm saltwater
- Gently removing with a sterile cotton swab
- Water flossing the area
Always push stones toward the front of your mouth, so you don’t swallow them. Don’t use your finger, tweezers or any other sharp object, because you could cause more damage.
If you are unsure about whether you have tonsil stones, contact your doctor. There may be other options for stone removal including:
- Laser resurfacing
- Irrigation with saline
- Curettage, which scoops out the stone
Full removal of your tonsils is only recommended as a last option if you are experiencing recurring stones, severe breathing problems, large stones, or chronic strep throat. Talk with your doctor before you make that decision because there could be risks with having surgery and the recovery time will take longer.
Causes of bad breath
Bad breath is a result of the VSCs released by the bacteria in your mouth. Sulfur gas is present in the mouth due to many potential reasons:
- Food left in between teeth and gums
- Smoking and chewing tobacco
- Dry mouth
- Serious illnesses and diseases
- Infections from mouth sores or decayed teeth
It’s good to know that of all the causes of bad breath, tonsil stones only account for about 3 percent of cases*.
*Ferguson M, Aydin M, Mickel J. Halitosis and the tonsils: a review of management.Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2014;151(4):567-74. doi:10.1177/0194599814544881
How to prevent bad breath from tonsil stones
If you brush and floss twice per day, you are taking steps from having any leftovers get trapped in your tonsils. Cleaning your tongue is another way to help reduce any particle buildup. SmartMouth mouthwash helps you keep your mouth clean and relieves the symptoms of bad breath since it’s specially formulated to eliminate VSCs in your mouth.
Tonsil stones can lead to more than just bad breath, but if you stick to your dental care routine, you can help protect your tonsils. Always see your doctor if you have concerns about your tonsils.