The tonsils are part of the immune system and one of their functions is to fight infection from bacteria and viruses. Many doctors think that they do this most effectively in young children, but are not particularly effective in protecting adults who live in a clean, modern environment.
In addition to collecting and fighting germs, the surfaces and pockets in tonsils can also accumulate other debris like mucus, food particles and dead skin cells. These collections can be small, soft and easily dislodged or large and firm. Some people have never heard of them, while others seem to be constantly bothered by them.
You may find them referred to as tonsil stones, tonsilloliths, caseum, white bumps or cottage cheese bumps. They can cause a lot of misery, but are rarely a sign of a serious illness by themselves. However, you should always have a strange, new lump investigated if you don’t know what it is.
Like other body parts, tonsils come in different sizes and shapes. In some people, the tonsils and any stones can easily been seen by opening the mouth wide enough. However, even large tonsil stones can be hidden from view and go unseen by trained specialists like doctors and dentists. In these cases, it may be necessary to use x-ray or other imagery to confirm their presence.
Why Treat Them?
Tonsil stones can cause sore throats, enlarged tonsils, bad breath, earaches, difficulty swallowing and be a source of repeated infection. If they only occur occasionally and come loose by themselves or can be easily removed with a swab or water spray, it is probably not worth the risk to deal with them surgically.
If they are causing major problems, are very large or hard or if the tonsils are very well hidden, the best solution may to be to surgically remove both tonsils completely. However, this can result in a long, painful recovery for adults.
The Laser Option
In many cases, complete removal of the tonsils is not necessary to get rid of tonsil stones. Laser tonsillectomy, which is more correctly called tonsillotomy, removes 50-70% of the tonsil to prevent the formation of any further stones. The tonsil surface is left much smoother and there are no more open fissures to accumulate gunk.
The use of a laser enables the surgeon to do the operation quickly using only local anesthetic. The patient can usually return home within a few hours and resume most normal activities within a few days. Added incentives are lower risks of bleeding, pain and complications from medication. It is certainly an option worth considering for a pesky and persistent problem.