My wife complained about my bad breath for months. Even after brushing my teeth, scraping my tongue with a tongue scraper, and gargling with mouthwash, a foul odor wafted from my mouth when I spoke. You might think that with such horrendous breath I was eating a raw onion for dinner followed by cloves of garlic for a midnight snack, but I’m pretty hawkish about oral hygiene and my dental routine. So the stinky breath persisted, albeit mysteriously.
One day, however, I woke up and noticed a white cap on my right tonsil. My throat hurt and so did my right ear, but I had no other symptoms to suggest that I was actually sick. I did some layman medical research via Google (which is typically not a good idea) and discovered, somewhat miraculously, that I indeed had no infection and no reason to worry.
I didn’t have a white cap of pus on my tonsil, but I did have a nagging little calcified deposit lodged into my tonsil, otherwise known as a tonsil stone. You’ve heard of kidney stones and gallstones, which are way more painful and serious than what we’re about to discuss here. Tonsil stones are a different animal entirely, but if you’ve been trying in vain to clamp down on your horrible breath, you might be suffering from one of these annoying little guys.
What are tonsil stones?
Tonsil stones are basically anything in your mouth that becomes calcified and lodged into a crevice in your tonsil. Sometimes, they’re little pieces of food you’ve long forgotten were still in your mouth. They can also form from saliva and mucus, however. It’s not a particularly complex condition, but according to the Mayo Clinic, this is how a case of tonsil stones — otherwise known as tonsilliths or tonsil calculi — might play out:
Some people have pits and craters in their tonsils that are deep enough for food particles, bacteria, saliva or mucus to become caught in them. As these substances are pressed into the craters, they eventually develop into tonsil stones.
Also called tonsilliths or tonsil calculi, these stones typically are pastel yellow in appearance. You might be able to see the stones when you examine your tonsils. But if they form deep in the tonsillar tissue, the stones may not be visible.
Yes, your tonsils have crevices, which make for discreet hiding places for tonsil stones to burrow inside.
What are the symptoms?
Redness, general pain and discomfort — which can take on a similar sensation to a sore throat (at least in my case). If they’re really bad, they can lead to a chronic case, which ultimately gives you tonsillitis. The predominant symptom is bad breath because of all the bacteria that collects on them. Given that these little bastards can lodge themselves in your tonsils to such a degree that they’re sometimes invisible, it can definitely compound your plight.
How can I treat them?
If you have extreme, consistent tonsil stones that present the dual dilemma of dragon breath and pain, then you can get your tonsils removed. There’s a minute chance it will actually come to this, but if the occasional deposit gets wedged into your tonsil, you can remove it on your own.
As Mayo Clinic advises:
When stones form, you can remove them either by gently pressing them out with a cotton swab or the back of your tooth brush, or by washing them out with a low-pressure water irrigator. You can use this device to aim a gentle stream of water at the tonsil craters and rinse out debris that may be caught in them.
This can obviously be tricky. Tonsil stones are wont to hiding, so you might have to play around with it. There are a bunch of YouTube instructionals that make for sickeningly satisfying viewing, if you’d like some visual instruction on how to remove them.
When I had to remove mine, I tried using my tooth brush to no avail and almost threw up after gagging myself multiple times. But I later found that a Q-tip worked. Obviously, consider talking to your doctor about this first. You definitely don’t want to put anything in your mouth that you can choke on.