Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Oral Care

Font Size

Understanding Tonsillitis -- the Basics

What Is Tonsillitis?

The tonsils are two masses of lymphatic (immune system) tissue located at the back of the throat. They produce antibodies designed to help you fight respiratory infections. They are small at birth and gradually increase in size until age 8 or 9. They begin to shrink around aqe 11 or 12 but never entirely disappear. When these tissues become infected, the resulting condition is called tonsillitis.

Tonsillitis most commonly affects children between the ages of 3 and 7, when tonsils may play their most active infection-fighting role. As the child grows and the tonsils shrink, infections become less common. Tonsillitis is usually not serious unless a tonsillar abscess develops. When this happens, the swelling can be severe enough to block your child's breathing. Ear infections and adenoid problems (swellings at the back of the nasal cavity above the tonsils) may occur at the same time.

Recommended Related to Oral Health

Do You Have These 5 Bad Dental Habits?

You practice good dental care: brushing your teeth, flossing fairly regularly, and seeing your dentist twice a year for checkups and cleanings. Good for you! But you’re probably also engaging in one or more bad habits that can undermine the good ones and compromise your dental health. Here‘s our list of five of the worst dental habits, why they're harmful, and what you can do to stop them.

Read the Do You Have These 5 Bad Dental Habits? article > >

What Causes Tonsillitis?

Most tonsil infections in elementary school-age children are caused by viruses. The likely viruses include those that cause the common cold, influenza (flu) viruses, and the Epstein-Barr Virus (EBV), which also causes mononucleosis, or "mono." Some types of bacteria can also cause tonsillitis. The most common bacteria are the same organisms which cause strep throat. Tonsillitis is caused by strep throat in kids only about 30% of the time, and less so in adults.

These germs are transmitted by casual contact with others -- like droplets in the air from sneezing. Sometimes transmission occurs by oral contact, especially in the case of EBV (which is why mono is often called "the kissing disease"). The tonsils try to fight viruses and bacteria that enter through our mouth and nose. The result is an infection in the tonsils which can then swell, becoming inflamed and painful.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Daniel Brennan, MD on March 12, 2014

How Do I Measure Up? Get the Facts Fast!

Number of Days Per Week I Floss

Get the latest Oral Health newsletter delivered to your inbox!


or
Answer:
Never
(0)
Good
(1-3)
Better
(4-6)
Best
(7)

You are currently

Only 18.5% of Americans never floss. You are missing out on a simple way to make a big difference in the health of your mouth. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Floss removes food trapped between the teeth and removes the film of bacteria that forms there before it turns to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Try flossing just one tooth to get started.

You are one of 31% of Americans who don't floss daily. You are missing out on a simple way to make a big difference in the health of your mouth. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Aim for 3 more days!

You are one of 31% of Americans who don't floss daily, but you're well on your way to making a positive impact on your teeth and gums. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Aim for all 7 days!

Only 50.5% of Americans floss daily, and good for you that you are one of them! Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Congratulations on your good oral health habit!

SOURCES:

American Dental Association, Healthy People 2010

This tool is intended only for adults 18 and older.

Start Over

Step:  of 

Today on WebMD

big smile
Article
Man grinding teeth
Article
 
Close-up of toothbrush
Health Check
how your mouth impacts your health
Slideshow
 

are battery operated toothbrushes really better
Video
bpa dental sealants
Video
 
Healthy Mouth Slideshow
Video
Young woman holding lip at dentists office
Video
 

15 myths and facts about cavities
Video
how healthy is your mouth
Video
 
elmo brushing teeth
fitVideo
5 ways to prevent diabetes dental problems
Video