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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.

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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

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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.

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