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A tonsil crypt is a pocket or pit on the surface of the tonsil that is present at birth. Most tonsil crypts shrink within a few months, but in some cases crevices might form, leading to bacterial infection and bad breath. Chronic tonsillitis may cause a cheesy substance to lodge in a tonsil crypt, which sometimes develops into small stones. There are several methods for cleaning tonsil crypts, but the only way to prevent them from returning is through a tonsillectomy.
Experts believe tonsils serve a purpose only during the first year of life, by forming antibodies to fight bacteria that enter the body through the mouth. Once immunity is complete, tonsils no longer provide any useful function, according to doctors who specialize in ear, nose, and throat disorders. Children who have had their tonsils removed do not suffer from an inability to ward off infections, these doctors say.
When small stones appear in a tonsil crypt, they are called tonsilloliths. They contain sulfa, which emits a foul smell similar to the odor of rotten eggs. The patient not only suffers from bad breath, but might also experience difficulty swallowing because he or she feels like there is an obstruction at the back of the throat.
A dental irrigation tool may help dislodge stones from a tonsil crypt. Some people use a light, mirror, and cotton swab to remove globs of mucus that could develop into tonsilloliths. Others find gargling with salt water or vinegar helpful for controlling bad breath and flushing out trapped food in the crypts. Cleaning the tongue with a tongue scraper or toothbrush might help remove bacteria before they migrate to a tonsil crypt.
The usual treatment for chronic tonsillitis that cannot be cured with antibiotics involves removing the tonsils. This is considered a fairly minor operation that usually does not require an overnight hospital stay. Complications from tonsillectomy are rare, but include infection, bleeding, and pain. Some patients notice a change in their voice after surgery.
Surgery is performed under anesthesia and takes about an hour. The patient typically stays in the recovery room for several hours before returning home. Soft foods and cool liquids are typically prescribed for several days after surgery to avoid scratching the throat. Patients usually recover completely within six weeks.