If you are among the population of people endlessly fascinated with tonsil stone removal videos, you’ve probably paused one of those videos to asked yourself, “Wait...do I have tonsil stones?” Even I, a person who goes “yuck yuck ew no” and quickly scrolls past that genre of gross-out video, have wondered whether my own mouth may be betraying me by harboring those disgusting, little balls of ick.
According to a video from Gross Science of PBS Digital Studios, one study found an estimated 24 percent of people have tonsil stones. However, there really isn’t any conclusive estimate on how many people have tonsil stones, with some surveys putting that number higher or lower than the aforementioned one-in-four people.
We do know that tonsil stones, more scientifically known as tonsilloliths, are relatively common. According to WebMD, tonsil stones form when food, dead cells, and mucus get trapped in pockets near your tonsils. Because our tonsils tend to have lots of nooks and crannies, this can happen fairly easily. When that debris becomes concentrated, it forms those white balls we’ve come to know and love (...well, some of you love) as tonsil stones.
Some people are more likely to get tonsil stones. (A blessing or a curse, depending on your stance on the stones.) People who have especially large tonsils, have tonsils with a lot of small cavities, or are prone to tonsillitis are more likely to develop tonsil stones.
For most people, tonsil stones are small and don’t cause problems. However, when they begin to get bigger, that’s when they can start creating issues. Here are three signs that you may have tonsil stones and that you might need to consider excavating them.
Your Breath Is Extra Bad
Has your breath been particularly funky as of late? Tonsil stones are one explanation for super bad breath. This is because bacteria and microbes will eat the aforementioned cells and food that form tonsil stones. The waste these tonsil stone-eating organisms release give off a sulfurous, awful smell. So basically, what you’re smelling is bacteria poop. Don’t be too grossed out, though: our entire bodies are essentially surrounded by clouds of our own gross bacteria 24/7.
You Consistently Have A Sore Throat
Often tonsil stones and tonsillitis occur simultaneously. So, throat pain could easily be attributed to having inflamed tonsils. However, if you have a particularly big tonsil stone lodged in your tonsils, it could cause you to have a sore throat. If you’ve already confirmed that the throat soreness isn’t being caused by tonsillitis, you might want to check to see if you’ve got a big ol’ tonsil stone hanging out in there.
You Have Unexplained Ear Pain
If you have allergies or have ever had a particularly bad cold, you may have noticed that your ears also got itchy or sore. Our ears, nose, and throat are all connected (hence why ENTs exists), and they are often our immune system’s first line of defense. So, while tonsil stones are seemingly unrelated from your ears, they too can cause ear pain. This is usually a sign that your tonsil stones become particularly big and likely need to be removed. (On a related note: the idea of removing tonsil stones from your ear is an entirely new level of disgusting my brain didn’t need.)
There are safe ways to remove tonsil stones by yourself at home, if you’ve got them and they’re causing any of the above side effects. Most of the time, your finger will do the trick. However, if you’re nervous or too grossed out to dig around in there, you can also see your doctor about having them removed.
If you think you’ve got tonsil stones, you can rest assured you’re not alone or some sort of mouth monster. If the amount of people who find tonsil stone videos fascinating are any indication, you’re actually a viral sensation waiting to happen.