Have you ever looked back in your throat and found little white pebbles coming out of your tonsils? These smelly little formations are called tonsil stones – or more correctly, tonsilloliths . It can be an embarrassing affliction because their foul odor can cause persistent halitosis (the medical term for bad breath). There's really no way to get rid of them entirely, but knowing how we get them can help keep tonsil stones to a minimum.

Our tonsils function as a type of filter, catching bacteria and other toxins that can grow in the throat. In about one of every ten people, however, it seems that the tonsils filter too much or too well, and can not clean themselves out fast enough. In this case, the “garbage” starts to pile up and smell bad. As it builds up, it calcifies and builds up in the form of little stones in the folds and crypts of the tonsils. Some studies suggest that those with sinus allergies are more prone to tonsilloliths because they have more sinus drip and excess mucus. It all gets trapped together in the tonsils, a mix of food particles, mucus, dead cells – and bacteria. As it calcifies, the bacteria ferments; this is what causes the bad odor.

Of course, people without allergies are also at risk of developing tonsilloliths. There are some conditions that will lead to higher risk; in my case, repeated episodes of strep throat infections had caused scarring on my tonsils that provided extra folds and crevices for debris to be trapped and develop into tonsil stones. Eating too many fatty foods or overdoing it on calcium can also increase your odds of developing tonsilloliths. Sugary foods and fried foods both create an environment in the mouth that is more conducive to bacteria growth. When there is an overpopulation of bacteria, the tonsils get overwhelmed and can not keep up on their filtering job; more tonsil stones. Unhealthy foods and toxins (like alcohol or cigarettes) create a cycle where the lymphatic system (of which the tonsils are a part) just can not keep up and is not able to do its job well.

It's not enough just to brush your teeth a couple of times a day; you need to make sure that food debris left in your mouth is at a minimum. Brushing after each meal as well as scrapping the tongue, the gums and the top of your mouth are important. After you brush, rinse your mouth well with a mouth wash. This is the best way to ensure that you've gotten as much food debris as possible out of the mouth. Gargle with salty water, too, to help loosen anything trapped in the tonsils and rinse it out. It will help prevent the formation of the tonsil stones, so you will not be as likely to have to deal with the bad breath or sore throats symptoms.

While doctors still are not sure about all the causes of tonsil stones, or why some people get them and others do not, it is known that allergies, post nasal drip, poor dental hygiene, and poor dietary habits are all exacerbating factors in their growth. If you have a problem with the growth of tonsilloliths, you may want to visit your doctor to find out what other preventive steps you can take to keep the problems at a minimum.