or halitosis, is one of the great unmentionables, despite the fact
it affects a huge number of people – as many as seven million Britons
– who spend more than £150 million each year on mouthwash
alone trying to get rid of it.
is often linked to smoking and not brushing your teeth properly
– this causes the bacteria in the mouth linked to bad breath to
But for many
people, no amount of brushing or sweet-smelling products seems to
make a difference. That’s because their problem is triggered by
a little known but surprisingly common condition – tonsil stones.
We tend to associate stones with the kidneys or gall bladder, but
it seems stones can also form on our tonsils, where they appear
as small white spots.
tonsil stones are little understood by many doctors – indeed
patients are often told there’s nothing wrong with them or that
what they see on their tonsils is simply the remains of last night’s
dinner. In fact, the problem affects thousands of people –
it’s particularly common in those who’ve suffered from tonsillitis
or who have a dry mouth as a result of medication such as painkillers.
are sacs of lymphatic tissue on either side of the throat. They
are part of the body’s immune system and contain lymphocytes –
cells that prevent and fight infections. The tonsils are meant to
function like nets, trapping incoming bacteria and virus particles
passing through your throat and preventing them travelling through
makes them the front line of defence against infections of the throat
and upper airways. However, it also means they become a potential
trap for food particles. Tonsil stones, or tonsilloliths, as they
are also known, are actually lumps of calcified food, mucus and
bacteria, explains Anastasia Rachmanidou, a consultant ear, nose
and throat surgeon at University Hospital Lewisham, South-East London.
of debris get trapped, they attract bacteria, harden and start to
decay, which is why sufferers can have bad breath,’ she says.
They can also
suffer from a bad ‘metallic’ taste in the mouth. Adults are more
at risk simply because they have bigger tonsils; the tonsils have
a naturally pitted surface like the moon and, as we grow, these
pits or crypts also get bigger, making them more likely to harbour
had tonsillitis is also at risk, as the illness can scar the tonsil.
Taking certain prescription medicines, such as high blood pressure
tablets, painkillers and antidepressants, can also cause the problem,
as a side-effect is dry mouth – if you don’t have enough saliva
to wash food and bacteria away, this can trigger tonsil stones or