Lately, you've noticed your little one is suffering from a case of bad breath, and they keep complaining that something feels caught in their throat. You immediately take them to the pediatrician or dentist, and it's discovered your child has tonsil stones. While it sounds like a scary thing, it's actually pretty common. In fact, if you've had them as an adult, you know how vexing they can be, and you'd love to spare your little one some of that annoyance and pain. But while you might just walk around making that ungodly phlegmy, hacking noise to try to dislodge yours, you're probably wondering how to make tonsil stones fall out in a less obtrusive way for your kid's sake.
Fortunately, Whitney DiFoggio, RDH, BS, aka Teeth Talk Girl, has plenty of advice to help relieve your little one (and you, if you're prone to tonsil stones). Less fortunate? Unlike adults, kids can't — and shouldn't — remove tonsil stones on their own. Doing so can cause tonsillitis in children, so it's best to have them treated as soon as possible. "Some people are able to remove them on their own, or sometimes they just work their way out themselves over time," DiFoggio says. "However, the best way to remove them is to visit your dentist or an ENT (ear nose throat doctor) for proper medical removal."
In the meantime, DiFoggio recommends a few home remedies that might make the tonsil-stone-haver in your family more comfortable. Bonus: These remedies could inadvertently remove the tonsil stones altogether.
What is a tonsil stone?
"A tonsil stone (also known as a ‘tonsillolith’) is a calcified buildup of debris that collects on and around your tonsils," DiFoggio tells Scary Mommy. "They're made up of minerals, food debris, and oral bacteria. They can cause serious bad breath, sore throat, trouble swallowing, ear pain, ongoing cough, and discomfort in the back of the throat."
Why do tonsil stones form?
According to DiFoggio, if you've had a health history of throat infections and illness, the more likely you are to have scarring in the back of your throat, "and scarring in your throat raises your chances of getting tonsil stones wedged around the scar tissue." Large tonsils, chronic sinus issues, and poor dental hygiene are other reasons some people may be more prone to getting tonsil stones than others. Additionally, DiFoggio says if you've had tonsil stones once before, you are now more predisposed to getting them again.
How do you get rid of tonsil stones?
While DiFoggio recommends removing tonsil stones by a professional, she outlines her go-to at-home recommendations below.
Gargle With Non-Alcoholic Mouth Rinses
"Vigorous rinsing with a mouthwash can lower bacteria levels and potentially loosen your tonsil stone. Plus, the antimicrobial action could help prevent new stone growth."
"Saltwater rinses help soothe sore throats and reduce inflammation. If your tonsil stones are causing irritation, the saltwater may provide some sense of relief. Warm up some water into a glass, stir in a teaspoon of salt, and then gargle."
Try an Apple Cider Vinegar Gargle
"Some people claim that apple cider vinegar is good for helping to break down the particles that cause tonsil stones. Dilute one tablespoon into a cup of warm water and gargle."
"I know it sounds weird, but coughing is a natural way to get rid of foreign debris in your throat — like tonsil stones. So, if you feel like you can cough the stone loose, then have at it!" But DiFoggio says you should caution your kid to be gentle when coughing so that they don't make themselves gag and/or burst a blood vessel. "A gentle cough is forceful enough to knock out tonsil stones that are already starting to work their way out."
While DiFoggio says she's aware there are other DIY ways people remove tonsil stones at home (with water flossers, cotton swabs, etc.), she does not recommend anything other than the four suggestions above. "When sticking something in your throat (whether it's high pressurized water or a cotton swab), you can seriously injure yourself or even set yourself up for an infection afterward. So, don't try to push on your tonsils and force them out with any foreign object!"
If the four options above don't work, DiFoggio says the safest thing you can do is visit your dentist and/or ENT.