Can you get tonsil stones without tonsils?
The question of if it is possible for you to get tonsil stones without tonsils is very common. After all, how can something form in a place that it is no longer there? However, this is possible especially if there are leftovers of the tonsils at the back of the throat. In this article, we will explain what tonsils and tonsil stones are, symptoms, how to diagnose, prevention and treatment methods.
WHAT ARE TONSILS?
The tonsils are small bits of tissue at the back of the throat. These small masses of tissues are oval-shaped with folds and gaps known as tonsillar crypts.
The tonsils are part of the body’s immune system, they help to protect against infections. They are the first defense system that filters bacteria and viruses that enters through the mouth (The American Academy of Otolaryngology). This makes them vulnerable to bacteria infestation and debris so they are removed in most cases. Getting rid of these oval-shaped tissues does not affect the body or its immune system.
WHAT ARE TONSIL STONES?
Tonsil stones also called “tonsil calculi” or “tonsilloliths, are small hard lumps that occur on the surface of the tonsils. These lumps form when dead cells, food, bacteria and other debris are trapped on the tonsils. With time, they get hard as calcium accumulates around them. They are usually white or yellow in color and can be easily seen. Tonsil stones are easy to remove, some get rid of them while coughing while others gargle with salt water to remove them.
If the stones are firmly set on the tonsils, you will have to gargle forcefully to dislodge them. You can also loosen tonsil stones by pressing the surrounding tissues gently with a cotton swab but you will have to place the cotton swab behind the stones so that they will fall out of the mouth instead of entering the throat. The size and volume of the stones can determine if you will be able to feel the tonsil stones. Removing tonsil stones by yourself is not encouraged because the surrounding tissues are delicate and pushing the stones too hard can result to injury.
You are likely to get tonsil stones if you have any of the following:
- Excess production of mucus
- Chronic infection of the tonsils
- Have removed your tonsils
- Large crevices and folds in their tonsils
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF TONSIL STONES?
A study published in the journal Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery Cases in 2019 listed some symptoms of tonsil stones like:
- Bad breath which is caused by the foul-smelling sulfides produced by anaerobic bacteria
- A feeling like something is stuck in the back of the mouth or throat
- Bad taste in the mouth
- Swollen and inflamed tonsils
- An irritating cough
Other symptoms are:
- Ear pain
- Sore throat
- Trouble with swallowing
CAN YOU GET TONSIL STONES WITHOUT TONSILS?
The possibility of getting tonsil stones even when you do not have tonsils can typically happen if you have removed your tonsils through a procedure known as tonsillectomy but still have remains of the tissues in the back of your throat. The leftover tissues can collect food particles, dead cells and other debris resulting to formation of tonsil stones.
Even without tonsils, tonsil stones can form in the adenoids which are found in the upper part of the throat behind the nose. Although these stones form in the same way as tonsils so but they are referred to as adenoliths to differentiate them from tonsil stones.
Tonsil stones can form easily even when there are no tonsils depending on the procedure used in removing the tonsils in the first place. Doctors can recommend a surgical procedure known as extracapsular tonsillectomy, which is the complete removal of all tonsil tissues. This procedure means that the chances of tonsils growing back and the recurrence of tonsil stones are very slim or not possible.
However, some tissues may remain and the tonsil stones could recur but not in the original size and volume although this is rare.
Another procedure used in removing tonsils known as intracapsular tonsillectomy, this process involves removing almost all the tonsils but leaving behind small and thin layer of tissue to reduce bleeding and pain. This procedure increases your risk of having tonsil stones regrowing in the future.
A procedure known as adenoidectomy with partial tonsillectomy involves leaving behind some thin layers of tissue. This tissue have a strong possibility of causing tonsil stones.
FACTORS THAT INFLUENCE THE LIKELIHOOD OF GETTING TONSIL STONES WITHOUT TONSILS
There are some factors that can influence your likelihood of having tonsil stones without tonsils:
- Age: People between the ages of 20 to 40 years are at risk of developing tonsil stones.
- Gender: About 33 percent of women are more likely at risk of developing tonsil stones. Women who have infections, dry mouth, overactive salivary glands and recurrent tonsillitis get tonsil stones more than others.
- Health Status: If you have removed your tonsils but still maintain poor oral hygiene or you have long-term tonsillitis, you will likely get tonsil stones.
- Diet: Having diet that are high in diary products, sugar or eating processed foods will also increase your risk of having tonsil stones.
- Smoking and Drinking Habits: Habits like drinking and smoking especially excessively can irritate the tonsils and make it easier for tonsil stones to develop.
- Stress Level: Stress can cause tonsil stones to form and even worsen the symptoms not these lumps.
HOW ARE TONSIL STONES DIAGNOSED?
Diagnosing tonsil stones can be done by conducting a physical examination, that is looking into your mouth and throat to get a view of the stones. If the tonsils stones are not easily seen, an imaging scan can be done. Sometimes, tonsils stones can be seen during a dental examination, an x-ray or any other scan.
HOW ARE TONSIL STONES TREATED?
Tonsil stones can be treated either medically or using home remedies.
The medical ways of treating tonsil stones include:
This is the first surgery option, it involves removing the tonsils to prevent tonsil stones from recurring. This procedure is safe but there can be throat pain for several days after the surgery. There are also risk associated with tonsillectomy. According to the National Health Service (NHS), these risk are bleeding, infection, swelling, breathing difficulties, dehydration secondary to pain, and life threatening reactions to the anesthesia.
2. Laser Treatment or Laser Tonsil Cryptolysis
This is a non-invasive procedure that vaporizes away the holes, cracks and crevices where food particles, dead cells and other substances are trapped. It is done under local anesthetic and the carbon dioxide laser coupled to a computerized pattern generator is used on the stones. You will feel soreness of the throat that will last for about 5 days.
3. Coblation Cryptolysis
Coblation cryptolysis involves using radio waves to change a salt solution to charged ions. The charged ions are used to cut through the tissues in order to reduce the crevices on the tonsils and get rid of the tonsil stones.
A paper published in the American Journal of Otolaryngology 2021 explains that this procedure makes the tonsils to become smooth including crevices and fold where tonsil stones can grow in. Patients can resume normal activities and eat regular foods a week after undergoing coblation cryptolysis. Another study by the Egyptian Journal of Otolaryngology in 2021 asserts that this procedure may be superior to other treatments although tonsillectomy is the most common procedure in the United States.
Some home remedies for treating tonsil stones are:
4. Salt-Water Gargle
Gargling with salt water can help to dislodge the tonsil stones. However, if the stones are firmly attached to the back of the throat, you may have to gargle forcefully. Apart from dislodging the tonsil stones, gargling with salt water can help to get rid of bad taste and odor.
Coughing can help to force out the tonsil stones. A hard cough can even dislodge firmly attached stones.
6. Oral Irrigation
Oral irrigators can be used to shoot liquids gently into the back of the throat. The force from the water can dislodge the tonsil stones. However , this should be done carefully and gently to avoid causing injury.
HOW TO PREVENT TONSIL STONES
It is better to prevent tonsil stones from developing than to go through the symptoms and treatment methods.
There are many ways to prevent tonsil stones from developing like:
- Maintaining good oral hygiene – Good oral hygiene will help to prevent food debris from accumulating on the tonsils. You should at least brush your teeth and floss once a day. You can also use tongue scraper to remove bacteria.
- Gargling with salt water or mouth wash regularly.
- Drinking plenty of water to keep the mouth hydrated
- Avoid excessive smoking and drinking of alcohol. Furthermore, reduce your intake of carbonated drinks.
- Treating sinuses, infections affecting the throat and allergy symptoms as soon as possible.
The question of how possible it is to get tonsil stones when you do not have tonsils. There is possibility especially if you have had your tonsils removed before. There are other factors that can increase the risk of developing tonsil stones even when there is no tonsils. It is best to treat tonsil stones to relieve the symptoms and reduce the risk of developing teeth decay, gum disease and oral infections.