Tonsil Stones

Have you ever experienced tonsil stones? Tonsil stones, also called tonsilloliths, are small, hard lumps that occur on your tonsils. It usually forms when debris becomes trapped in the tonsils. They are not easily visible because they are tiny, just like grain, and do not harm. However, larger ones can cause bad breath and irritation and block your airway and esophagus.

While most tonsil stones do not cause any harm, when they grow, they can cause bad breath and irritation, block your airway and esophagus, and cause your tonsils to swell. This article will explore everything about tonsil stones, such as common symptoms, causes, treatment, and prevention tips.

What Are Tonsil Stones?

Tonsil stones, or tonsilloliths or tonsilliths, are small white or yellow hard lumps that occur due to the accumulation of debris in the crevices and pits of the gland-like structures at the back of the throat, causing bad breath. They are not painful or harmful unless larger and can be treated at home. In severe cases, treatment or surgery is required.

They usually happen to people who have large or uneven tonsils. If your tonsils are red with nooks and crevices, where bacteria and other things, including dead cells and mucus, can get trapped, tonsil stones may form in them.

What Causes Tonsil Stones?    

Tonsil stone is the formation of biofilm, which is the mouth's bacteria, fungi, or plaque interacting with your mouth's surface. The factor that causes tonsil stones are:

Food debris or fungus. 

  • Large tonsils allow viruses, bacteria, and fungi to interact with the tonsils constantly.
  • Poor oral hygiene allows plaque bacteria to interact with the tonsils constantly.
  • Chronically inflamed tonsils that increase mucus.
  • Constant post-nasal drainage in the throat.

What Are The Symptoms Of Tonsil Stones?

Is it possible to identify if you have tonsil stones? It can be challenging because of their small size, which can be seen only after X-rays or CT scans. However, there are several symptoms that you can sense and can identify whether it's tonsil stone. The symptoms include:

  • Bad breath: The main and often noticeable symptom of tonsil stones is severe bad breath smell. The foul smell is caused by the bacteria that thrive in the tonsil stones and produce sulfur compounds. The breath smell remains constant even after brushing your teeth. 
  • Discomfort in Throat: This symptom is noticeable at the time when you eat something. While eating, you may feel some discomfort, like something stuck in your throat.
  • Sore Throat: Tonsil stones are painless but may cause sore throat
  • White or Yellow Bumps on the Tonsils: To check this symptom, go in front of your mirror, open your mouth wide, and flash a torchlight at the backside of your throat. You might see it as a lump of solid white or yellow material. 
  • Coughing and Irritation: Another symptom is irritation in the throat, leading to a cough. 
  • Ear Pain: Sometimes, you can feel pain in your ear because of the shared nerve pathways. 
  • Tonsil Swelling: As tonsil stones are hard, they may swell because of inflammation and infection.

In case you are also experiencing bleeding with swelling, inflammation, and pain for more than one month, visit your doctor, as these symptoms can also be a sign of another severe disease such as strep throat, tonsillitis, or even cancer.

How To Diagnose Tonsil Stones?

If you are experiencing severe symptoms or your chronic bad breath does not go away after brushing, flossing, and gargling water, you should see your doctor for further diagnosis and discuss your treatment options.

Your doctor will diagnose the white and yellow lumps at the back of your throat or may ask for additional tests for better diagnosis:

  • Examine your mouth and throat from the inside.
  • If stones are not easily visible, they may be an imaging scan.
  • To remove the stones, the doctor may use a dental pick.
  • X-rays or CT scans may be required if your symptoms are still undiagnosed.

What Are The Treatments of Tonsil Stones?

Usually, tonsil stones do not require any treatment as they are painless and not harmful and dissolve on their own or are coughed up. They can be treated at home. But for those who do go away on their own, there are several types of treatments:

1. Medication Options

Your doctor may prescribe OTC anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen for severe tonsil stone symptoms, easily removing the stones and reducing swelling and swallowing problems. Another option is that your doctor may prescribe antibiotics such as corticosteroids for tonsil stone flares, which help remove bacteria from your gut and boost your immune system. But it is advised to use these medicines only for a short time. 

2. Surgery Options

Another option for how to get rid of tonsil stones is surgery. Doctors generally do not recommend surgery as a treatment for tonsil stones unless the stones significantly negatively impact a patient's life or increase the risk of tonsillitis. Some surgical options for treating tonsil stones include:

  • Tonsillectomy: This is the most effective surgery as it removes all three types of tonsils (palatine, pharyngeal, and lingual) so that they never grow back. But this surgery may also be linked to some side effects like great pain for some weeks due to general anesthesia given in this surgery. Some people may experience bleeding or infection. If your doctor diagnoses enlarged adenoids and sleep-disordered breathing, they may recommend removing your adenoids during surgery.
  • Laser Cryptolysis: This surgery removes tonsil crypts from the laser process to prevent tonsil stones from developing, and there are no side effects linked to this surgery. 
  • Coblation Cryptolysis: It is a surgery that uses radio waves (no heat) to change salt solution into charged ions to dissolve tonsil crypts and crevices. It only uses local anesthesia, and recovery is fast. As it does not use heat, there is no risk of facial burns.
  • Tonsillotomy: Tonsillotomy is a partial tonsillectomy that only removes the palatine tonsils using local anesthesia but has the same effect as a complete tonsillectomy. It is a short and less painful surgery that suits both children and adults. 

How To Remove Tonsil Stones At Home?

Generally, tonsil stones do not require any treatment and can be handled at home with no or little symptoms. Some home methods to remove tonsil stones include:

  • Gargle Of Salt Water: To remove tonsil stones, gargling with salt water in the back of your throat after eating can ease throat discomfort and may dissolve tonsil stones and odor smell by clearing the debris and food particles that lead to tonsil stones. Remember not to use alcoholic mouthwashes to avoid swelling near the tonsil stones area.
  • Coughing: If you have tonsil stones, a hard cough can help to loosen and dissolve them. This method works best when done after gargling with salt water. 
  • Oral irrigation: Sometimes, oral irrigators can gently spray water into the back of the mouth to remove tonsil stones. These devices easily reach hard-to-reach areas between the teeth where plaque can build up and cause oral problems, including tonsil stones.
  • Chew Garlic: Crush a garlic clove and mix it with warm water. Its antimicrobial, antifungal, and antiviral properties help eliminate bacteria that lead to tonsil stone formation and bad breath. 
  • Using an object: Another method is to use your finger or a toothbrush to remove tonsil stones. However, doing so can easily scratch your delicate tonsils, leading to infection. Instead, you can use an object, like a cotton swab.

How to Prevent Tonsil Stones?

Maintaining good oral hygiene is one of the most necessary prevention tips to avoid tonsil stones. This involves brushing your teeth twice daily, flossing daily, and using an antimicrobial mouthwash. However, you may have another oral health issue if you experience tonsil stones or excessive plaque buildup despite following a strict dental care routine. Some ways to prevent tonsil stones:

  • Brush your teeth regularly: It is important to clean your mouth by brushing your teeth regularly. Brushing removes the food particles that cause material accumulation that leads to tonsil stones and kills the bacteria that cause bad breath. Brushing your teeth three times daily, once in the morning and once after meals, is recommended. 
  • Mouthwash: Another prevention tip is using non-alcoholic mouthwash that helps prevent bad breath and the formation of tonsil stones by flushing the debris and bacteria. 
  • Warm Salt Water: Gargling with warm salt water (not hot) in the back of your throat after eating can help relieve sore throat pain and remove tonsil stones. Use salt with antimicrobial properties to remove bacteria that may cause tonsil stones and bad breath. 
  • Apple Cider Vinegar: Gargling with diluted apple cider vinegar may help break down and dissolve the materials in the tonsil stones. This method, in moderation, may cause tooth decay or digestive problems.
  • Avoid Alcohol and Smoking: Smoking and drinking alcohol increases the risk of inflammation in the throat, which causes tonsil stones more often. Quit smoking and alcohol to reduce the irritation and chances of growing tonsil stones further. 

Also, remember to drink plenty of water to help prevent tonsil stones. Water helps limit buildup and keep saliva production up for a healthy mouth. If your tonsil stones continue to be a painful problem, immediately see your medical professional for treatment.

When To Visit a Healthcare Provider?

Most tonsil stones are harmless and do not require any medical attention. Unless your symptoms are severe, such as very red in color, large in size, or ear pain, you do not need treatment. However, visit your doctor if you are experiencing symptoms including:

  • Chronic sore throat for more than a month.
  • Breathing problems. 
  • Swallowing problems.
  • Severe pain due to some infection. 
  • Recurrent tonsil stones. 

In such cases, your doctor will try to find the underlying cause of your tonsil stones and may recommend the proper treatment.


Dealing with tonsil stones can be frustrating, but treating them is important. These small and harmless lumps at the back of your throat go away themselves, but they need treatment in severe cases such as tonsillitis.

Once tonsil stones form, they come and go from time to time. So, getting rid of them can be challenging once they form. It is important to follow some precautionary methods to avoid them. Hopefully, from the above article, you know everything about tonsil stones, when you need to get treatment from the doctor, and when you can get rid of them at home. If you frequently experience tonsil stones or if they grow large, visit your healthcare provider for proper treatment. 


1. Can I remove tonsil stones at home?

Ans: Yes, if your tonsil stones do not have severe symptoms, they can be treated at home by gargling with salt water or coughing vigorously to remove bacteria that form tonsil stones.

2. How long do tonsil stones last?

Ans: Tonsil stones can stay for several days to years or sometimes go away within 1-3 weeks. However, large stones remain for many years and can only be treated by a doctor. 

3. What deficiency causes tonsil stones?

Ans: Vitamin D deficiency increases VEGF expression in tonsillar tissue, contributing to recurrent/chronic tonsillitis.

4. What not to eat when you have tonsil stones?

Ans: Avoid eating dry, spicy, or fried foods that may inflame and irritate your throat. Instead, drink hot liquids more. 

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Oliver Nelson

Oliver Nelson is a New York based Health Specialist Writer who completed his graduation from Syracuse University back in 2015. His writings were published in the top Healthcare brands in the United States.

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