Gross Talk: Do You Pop Your Tonsil Stones?

Yesterday morning, I woke up with a rather painful sore throat. I headed straight for the mirror and open my mouth as wide as I could, peering down my throat in search of swollen glands or major redness. Instead, I saw white bumps on what I assumed to be my tonsils. I headed straight for the internet to do a little self-diagnosis, thinking surely I had strep throat or some other incredibly annoying infection that would require a trip to the doctor. And while I might have an infection that requires a trip to the doctor, the point of this post is not my health and well-being. The point is to discuss a little thing I discovered while doing my research called “tonsil stones.” (Gross photo after the jump, FYI.)
Perhaps tonsil stones are not news to you, but they were news to me and they grossed me out in such a delightful way that I needed to share. Tonsil stones (or the more formal “tonsilloliths”) are “irregularly shaped, whitish/yellow, foul-smelling globs of mucus and bacteria that get caught in the back of the throat” in the tonsil pockets which are called “tonsil crypts.” How goth! (UPDATE: If you don’t have your tonsils anymore, congrats! You shall forever be tonsil stone-free.) The sucky thing about tonsil stones is not just that they can get infected and cause your throat to hurt, but that they smell disgusting and are a common cause of bad breath. Nasty.

Now, the only person who has ever told me I have bad breath was my friend Joel, and it was just once, and it was right after I had a large cup of coffee, so I think I’m all clear. Still, had those white bumps been there all along and I just didn’t notice until my throat started to hurt? Tonsil stones can be prevented via the usual oral hygiene care — brushing, flossing, tongue-scraping, mouth-washing — and I’m pretty good about that. But you also can prevent them from forming by drinking lots of water and avoiding excessive consumption of other beverages like, oh, I don’t know, Diet Coke. Oops.

All that being said, I was fascinated to learn that those who are afflicted with tonsil stones (or, as I have just nicknamed it, “throat rot”) can clean/pop the offending area themselves using moistened cotton swabs. It’s not a long-lasting solution, but it’s kind of fun, at least if you’re fascinated by the human body like I am. I tried it and sure enough, one of the white spots popped and afterwards, in the interest of science, I gave it a wiff. Yep, kind of stinky. I had just eaten though. For more information on obliterating tonsil stones altogether, talk to your dentist. []

Next week on “Gross Talk” — how to avoid getting embarrassing toilet paper bits stuck to your labia.