What Are Tonsil Stones? | Gross Science

October 17, 2019

I’m about to show you one of the most revolting
pieces of footage I’ve ever seen. You’ve been warned. Alright, I know that was deeply horrifying,
so let me explain. What I just showed you was called a “tonsil stone,” or a “tonsillolith.”
And they’re really common. In fact, you might have them in your mouth right now. I’m Anna Rothschild, and this is Gross Science. Tonsil stones often occur if you’ve had
repeated bouts of tonsillitis, or if you just have large-ish tonsils with lots of nooks
and crannies. You might not even know you have them, cause they can grow behind the
tonsil where you can’t see them. There aren’t great estimates for how many
people have tonsil stones. But in one small study of 150 CT scans of people’s heads,
about 24% showed signs of them. Though I’ve seen other studies with higher and lower numbers,
as well. There’s some debate about how exactly they
form, but what we know is that dead cells, mucus, and food get trapped in the crevices
of the tonsil and harden, or “calcify.” Most of the time, the stones are so small
that they don’t pose a problem. But when they’re larger they can cause sore throats,
ear pain, and really bad breath. That’s because bacteria and other microbes will feast
on the globs of organic matter, and the sulfurous waste products they release give off a deeply
unpleasant scent. If you have tonsil stones and they bother
you, some people recommend gargling with salt water or other special mouthwashes, flushing
them out with a water pick, or popping them out with something soft like your finger or
a cotton swab. And if the problem gets really severe, your doctor might recommend a tonsillectomy
or procedure to smooth out the tonsils. On a personal note, I actually know what having
tonsil stones is like. A bunch of years ago I kept coming down with tonsillitis, and along
with it I developed some small tonsil stones. Because I’m me, I was kinda just fascinated
by the whole thing. But, I was totally relieved when they went away. Ew. I don’t know about you, but I find this
topic especially gross. Why do you think that is? Let me know in the comments. And for more
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