Commonly experienced tonsil stones symptoms include bad breath, throat pain, metallic, bitter taste in the mouth and difficulty swallowing. Less common symptoms of stones involve earache and tonsil swelling that may further affect the ability to swallow properly. Tonsil stones rarely cause medical problems that require a visit to the doctor but the symptoms they do provoke–especially severe halitosis–can disrupt daily life and be embarrassing as well.

Why Tonsil Stones Cause Specific Symptoms

Tonsil stones, or tonsilloliths, develop within tonsillar fissures known as “crypts” when enough mouth debris begins sticking together and forming a distinct accumulation that later calcifies. About the size of a pea, tonsils stones are comprised of oral bacteria called anaerobes, food particles, mucus, dead skin cells and white blood cells sent by the immune system in response to the presence of something foreign in the tonsils’ fissures. People prone to tonsil stones usually suffer post nasal drip, allergies or sinusitis, conditions that contribute to bacterial overgrowth. Excess mucus and phlegm produced by inflamed nasal passages that are chronically irritated by one or more of these illnesses directly promote tonsil stone development.

Technically referred to as the “palantine” tonsils, human tonsils provide about 15 to 30 crypts in which tonsil stones can form and lodge. This system of of crypts represent a complex network of lymphatic and blood vessels that maintain connections with the immune system and ear, nose and throat structures controlling our ability to taste, smell and hear. When tonsil stones interfere with the functioning of tonsils by erroneously signalling the immune system, this sets off a cascade of symptoms exacerbated by white blood cells and the sensitivity of tonsillar epithelial cells.

Bad Breath

The most common complaint given by people suffering from recurrent tonsil stones is the horrible bad breath they cause. Because tonsilloliths are comprised mainly of putrefying mouth debris and anaerobic bacteria, the odor emanating from a tonsil stone is worse than bad breath unaccompanied by tonsil stones. People with tonsil stones say that no matter how many times they brush their teeth or gargle during the day, halitosis still lingers simply because the tonsil stones remain embedded in tonsillar crypts until they are removed.

Worsening bad breath from tonsil stones are other conditions often accompanying development of tonsilloliths, such as post nasal drip. Allergies and chronic sinusitis infections constantly irritate nasal passages and forces excess drainage and mucus to flow into the throat. As this phlegm thickens and becomes difficult to swallow, anaerobic bacteria swarm into this stagnant, airless environment and start to consume the mucus. Consumption of this protein-rich oral debris promotes bacterial excretion of highly odorous, sulfuric gases called volatile sulfur compounds (VSCs) that are entirely responsible for severe bad breath.

In addition, these bacteria help create tonsil stones as mucus, food particles and dead tissue cells bind together in tonsil fissures, attracting vast amounts of anaerobes as the calcification process begins to form a tonsillolith. While tonsil stones smell on their own, a stone that is bitten or broken will release concentrated quantities of bacteria and mouth debris that smell ten times worse than the stone by itself.

Sore Throat

Larger than normal tonsil stones may cause sore throats or the feeling of having a “lump” in the throat that cannot be swallowed away. Usually, tonsil stones are very tiny and are detected only after chronic bad breath does not go away and the person sees one or more stones when inspecting the mouth. Stones are generally globular in shape but some could develop sharper edges that dig into sensitive tonsil tissue and produce pain that spread into the throat.

Bitter and/or Metallic Taste

When an odd taste remains in the mouth even after brushing, flossing and gargling every day, the culprit may be tonsil stones that are secreting heavy amounts of bacterial gases and a sticky discharge comprised of decayed material.

Coughing and Gagging

Tonsils stones that are embedded in tonsil areas closest to the middle of the throat may produce coughing spells that last until the stone is dislodged. For people who have sensitive gag reflexes, stones that are large enough to protrude from a tonsil and touch the back of the throat may initiate a gagging fit as well.

Chronic Tonsillitis

Recurring tonsil stones may irritate tonsils enough to trigger a response from the immune system which generates inflammation of the tonsils, or tonsillitis. People who suffer from chronic tonsillitis may want to inspect tonsils to determine whether tonsilloliths are aggravating tissues comprising the tonsillar crypts

Ear Pain

Secondary otalgia (ear pain) is pain occurring within the ear. When ear pain is caused by tonsil stones, this usually indicates the stones are in some way irritating the glossopharyngeal nerve, also called cranial nerve number nine, that connects the throat, tonsils and base of the tongue to the inner ear. Functions of this nerve include reception of taste fibers from the front of the tongue as well as sensory fibers emanating from the carotid sinus region. Some tonsil stone sufferers have also reported hearing ringing in the ears when tonsil stones are present, a condition called tinnitus that results from allergies or chronic sinusitis creating fluid build-up behind the ear drum.

Inspecting Tonsils for Tonsil Stones

If you suspect that you may have tonsil stones, take a cotton swab or toothbrush and look into a mirror as you gently prod the tonsils. Spreading crevices apart may help reveals tonsil stones that were previously concealed by these small fissures. When tonsils stones are large enough, you will be able to see them without using objects or other aides because they will protrude from the fissures and appear like tiny, yellowish white specks.

Treating Symptoms of Tonsil Stones

The best way to relieve tonsil stone symptoms is to prevent them altogether by eliminating oral conditions conducive to tonsil stone formation. This means getting rid of excessive anaerobic bacterial activity and mouth debris that is rich with bacteria’s primary food source–proteins. Of course, a tonsillectomy will permanently stop tonsilloliths but physicians do not like to perform tonsillectomies on adults due to complications and long recovery times. Instead, practicing good oral hygiene by using products containing powerful ingredients formulated to kill anaerobic bacteria and remove excess mucus is the best and most successful alternative to surgery.

TheraBreath’s Oral Hygiene line of exclusive products created by the distinguished bacteriologist and dentist Dr. Harold Katz offer a Deluxe Tonsil Kit that provides everything you need to banish tonsil stones without the need for an expensive tonsillectomy. Products such as toothpastes, mouthwashes, oral rinses and special AktivOxigen tablets that kill anaerobic bacteria by oxygenating the mouth will give users fresher breath than what they had prior to suffering from tonsil stones. Additionally, TheraBreath’s Deluxe Tonsil Kit stops the formation of tonsil stones by keeping the mouth properly hydrated, exterminating bacteria, eliminating excess mucus and regulating oral pH levels that can lead to calcification of recurring tonsil stones.