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The Different Kinds of Bad Breath, Part 2: Tonsil Breath

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Ok, let's continue forward in our series about bad breath. Last time, we talked about what I call "lung breath." Today we'll talk about another kind of bad breath -- tonsil breath. Basically, tonsil breath is where bad breath/halitosis originates in the tonsils, and not in other areas like the lungs or stomach. And how does bad breath originate in the tonsils, you ask? Generally due to a condition called tonsilloliths (aka "tonsil stones"). More on that in a minute.

First, let's talk about the tonsils themselves. Your tonsils are the two lymphatic glands at the back of your throat (those two red "balls" back there). And trust me, they are just waiting to be a problem, to be quite honest. I don't know many people who still have their tonsils who don't have some kind of problem with them. This is because your tonsils are meant to trap bacteria -- that's their job. Unfortunately, bacteria can cause infection, is stinky, and has a host of other characteristics that spell trouble. This is why so many children (and adults) end up getting their tonsils removed.

But let's say, like millions of people out there, you don't have your tonsils removed. Then you are at risk for tonsilloliths/tonsil stones, and the bad breath that comes with it. In fact, if you still have your tonsils and have bad breath, and it's not coming from your lungs (which we went over last time), and brushing and mouthwash don't seem to work, tonsil stones could be a cause. It's at least worth looking into. (Although don't run out and get your tonsils removed, unless your doctor recommends it.)

OK, what are tonsil stones? In a nutshell, they are calcified deposits of bacteria and the like. See, your tonsils have all kinds of pockets, crevices, nooks, crannies, etc. -- you get the picture. This allows them to temporarily trap bacteria. But sometimes this bacteria becomes struck, and attracts more bacteria (and other debris) -- this eventually forms a small mass that calcifies, and ta-da -- we have a tonsil stone. Usually they are the size of a pea (or smaller -- some are virtually invisible). And since this tonsil stone is made up of a host of bacteria and debris, it smells. Bad. Some people say the smell is akin to vomit or rotten eggs -- it's definitely pungent. And no, brushing your teeth isn't going to help.

So how can you be sure if you have tonsil stones? The best way is to just look. Even though I mentioned above that sometimes they are so small they cannot be seen, more often than not, they'll be there front and center. If you see white bumps on your tonsils, it's a good bet you have tonsil stones. (As always, though, don't self-diagnose from the internet -- see your doctor or dentist to be sure.)

But OK, let's assume you see your doctor, and they say, "Yes, you have tonsil stones, and that's causing your bad breath." How can you cure them, and how can you prevent them? Let's talk about getting rid of them first.

If you look online for this subject, you'll see that people actually remove them with their fingers (yuck), or a cotton swab. I'm not a fan of either method, as it could cause more harm than good. (Yeah, let's pick at your tonsil with a dirty fingernail, shall we?) If you have a water pick or irrigator, there are versions and attachments that are specifically for getting rid of tonsil stones -- these are what I would recommend over the old fingernail. You could try and get back there with a toothbrush as well, but again, that doesn't sound very pleasant. I recommend the irrigator -- ask your dentist (like your friendly NYC Cosmetic Dentist), and he or she can definitely point you in the right direction.

But in my mind, the best way to handle tonsil stones is to prevent them from occurring in the first place. And how do you do that, you ask? Well, the answer is the dentist's stock answer for anything mouth-related: better oral hygiene. Really -- brushing and flossing more often will eliminate many of the bacteria that cause tonsil stones. Try not to eat after that last brush of the day/evening as well. Oh, and here's one more for you -- gargle. Yes, gargling twice a day will help flush your tonsils of bacteria, and keep them from becoming trapped and inviting all their friends over for a stinky tonsil party. Use warm water and a little bit of salt (a quarter-teaspoon or so). This will go a long way in keeping your tonsils healthy.

And there you have it -- "tonsil breath" explained. Like the previously blogged-about "lung breath," these are two types of bad breath that gum or mints really won't help. But it is preventable, and it is treatable.

Until next time, keep smiling.

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