Ask the Dentist: Tonsil stones might be the cause of your bad breath

Build-up of debris in the tonsils can be behind bad breath, writes Lucy Stock, dentist at Gentle Dental Care in Belfast

Tonsil stones are a perfect breeding ground for anaerobic bacteria, which can lead to bad breath
Lucy Stock

IF YOUR bad breath is driving you nuts and you’ve explored every avenue to get it fresh maybe you have overlooked your tonsils as the cause.

About 8 per cent of us have tonsil stones, the posh term being tonsilloliths. Each creamy mass is a hardened stew of food debris, bacteria and calcium which has become entrapped in the crypt pits of the tonsils. If left to their own devices these stones can grow, blocking up the tonsils, causing further infection. The largest recorded tonsillolith measured was an impressive 14.5 centimetres and was recorded in 1936.

Tonsil stones and the surrounding environment is a perfect breeding ground for anaerobic bacteria, allowing them to exude their foul-smelling, eggy sulphides that waft away, giving the bad breath.

However, its not just a case of whipping your tonsils out: like the vast majority of the body, tonsils have a function. The tonsils act as a type of germ sieve, trapping any bacteria or viruses that have been breathed in. Proteins called antibodies produced by the immune cells in the tonsils help to kill germs and prevent throat and lung infections.

These clever little throat masses produce antibodies against polio, streptococcal pneumonia, influenza, and numerous other infections.

Holes in the tonsils are actually a normal part of your anatomy. The bigger the holes in your tonsils the more likely you are of developing infection or tonsil stones. Tonsil stones are not only the perpetrators of bad breath, they can also be responsible for ear pain or a persistent cough. If they become huge swallowing can be a challenge.

Although preventing the growth of tonsil stones completely is almost impossible, you can try tipping the balance into the health arena by keeping your mouth as spit spot as possible to reduce the chance of infections.

Gargling with salt water or gentle coaxing out with a cotton bud often does the trick of dislodging a stone. There are also sucking devices to try and get the stone to budge; however, the suction may not be strong enough. Water flossers are a useful method to blast the stone out and reduce debris and bacteria at the same time.

However, a doctor may need to step in to remove them. Tonsils can be surgically resurfaced to reduce the number of holes in them, thus lessening the number of holes where stones can grow. Total removal of the tonsils is now considered a treatment of last resort.

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