Individuals who develop tonsil stones experience varying sizes of these unpleasant masses. Tonsil stones often become wedged in the surface of your palatine tonsils, which are located on either side of the back of your throat. In general, the relative sizes of your tonsil stones indicate the extent of the symptoms they produce: the larger the tonsil stone, the more likely it is to be bothersome or problematic.
Tonsil stones, also known as tonsilloliths, are formed when cellular debris, food particles, and microorganisms become lodged in the surface of the tonsils. These materials combine with saliva and postnasal drip in the tonsils’ external layer of mucosa, which contains crevices that are known as the tonsillar crypts. Once these substances begin to decay and calcify, they become small, pale-colored tonsil stones and may create discomfort.
Smaller tonsil stones rarely create noticeable symptoms or side effects. Because these are the most common type of tonsil stones, the majority of patients with this condition do not experience symptoms. As a result, most individuals with tonsil stones are unaware of their condition until their doctor discovers it incidentally through an x-ray or a CAT scan.
Unfortunately, tonsil stones tend to increase in size as more debris is deposited and as more bacteria are drawn to the accumulated material. When tonsil stones become enlarged and solidified, individuals may begin to experience unpleasant symptoms such as bad breath, difficulty swallowing, earaches, a sore throat, and recurrent inflammation. Although these side effects are unpleasant, tonsil stones do not appear to be life threatening or to harm your overall health.
If your tonsil stones are not creating significant symptoms or health issues, they are most likely small and may not require treatment. But if you are experiencing discomfort or pain, you are likely suffering from large tonsil stones and should seek treatment. Speak with your family doctor about your symptoms and concerns. He or she can conduct an oral examination, remove any visible tonsil stones, and suggest at-home remedies or an antibiotic. If these measures do not reduce your discomfort, your doctor may suggest that you consult an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialist. An ENT specialist may recommend that your tonsils be removed surgically if these stones persist.