Your grandparents called them “tonsil stones" but your doctor refers to them by their medical name, “tonsilloliths". Those cream-colored deposits that sometimes accumulate in the nooks and crannies of your tonsils are thought to be a combination of food particles, white blood cells, cells from the interior of your mouth and bacteria.
Exactly how tonsil stones form is unknown but Dr. Philip Tierno, author of The Secret Life of Germs, believes that these foul-smelling deposits are formed by the anerobic bacteria that lives naturally in your mouth and throat. And microscopic examination seems to show that tonsil stones are formed in concentric layers not unlike the way a pearl is structured.
The good news is that tonsil stones are not associated with any known medical problems nor do they pose any health risks. In fact, it's estimated that about a quarter of all adults who still have their tonsils get tonsil stones at least occasionally.
Usually, tonsil stones will dislodge on their own but if they become large enough to become bothersome or give you a feeling of having a foreign body trapped in your throat, tonsil stones can be easily dislodged with an oral irrigation device. Rarely do tonsil stones grow large enough or become stuck so well that they have to be medically removed.
So far, science has offered little in the way of prevention of tonsil stones. Dr. Douglas Hoffman recommends gargling with salt water or mouthwash after meals and some dentists recommend adding an oral irrigation system to your daily regimen. But if you continue to see them, even with fastidious dental hygiene, relax. Tonsil stones are not a reflection of your personal grooming habits.
If you get tonsil stones don't be embarassed to talk to your dentist. He or she will help you create an oral hygiene routine that's appropriate for you.
Lisa Barger is a traditional naturopath specializing in natural health education. To learn more about Ms. Barger's belief in "Empowerment through Education" or to take a free online natural health class see her website, www.LisaBarger.com