• What are Tonsil Stones?
  • Causes of Tonsil Stones
  • Symptoms of Tonsil Stones
  • Tonsil Stone Treatment and Removal
  • Preventing Tonsil Stones

You may have tonsil stones and not even know it. They aren’t always easy to see as they can be as small as a grain of rice. While, most cases of tonsil stones will not result in greater health complications, some can produce an unpleasant odor or grow quite large and cause your tonsils to swell.

Learn more about the causes of tonsil stones, how to prevent them, and when tonsil stone removal may be necessary.

What are Tonsil Stones?

Tonsil stones, or tonsilloliths, occur when debris gets trapped in the crevices and pits of the gland-like structures at the back of the throat. Calcification, a process that transforms the debris into hard white or yellow deposits, creates the “stones” which may be uncomfortable for some.

Causes of Tonsil Stones

Tonsils have one major function: to help stop the spread of bacteria from the mouth into the throat. However, they don’t always do their job very well. As mucus, debris, and food flood into the different nooks of the tonsil, a formation begins to build up. As the buildup hardens it forms into a tonsil stone.

Causes of tonsil stones include:

  • Chronically inflamed tonsils, a condition known as tonsillitis
  • Large tonsils which enable more buildup within their pockets
  • Sinus issues that increase mucus and lead to buildup
  • Poor oral hygiene which allows bacteria to continuously interact with the tonsils

A good oral care routine can help clean debris from the mouth, potentially lessening what can get trapped in the tonsils. With the right toothbrush you can remove more food debris and bacteria from the surfaces of your teeth, gums, and tongue.

Oral-B electric toothbrushes use a round a brush head that surrounds each tooth as it cleans to remove 100% more plaque bacteria than a manual and are gentle enough to clean the tongue too.


Symptoms of Tonsil Stones

Tonsil stones can vary in size. In fact, some people may not even realize they have them. In instances where the tonsil stones are larger in size, symptoms may include:

  • Swollen or enlarged tonsil glands
  • Painful swallowing
  • Sore throat
  • Bad breath from the bacteria buildup
  • Persistent cough
  • White or yellow debris at the back of the throat
  • Ear pain

If you find yourself with any of the above symptoms, see your healthcare provider right away for proper diagnosis and treatment.

Tonsil Stone Treatment and Removal

Tonsil stones are usually harmless and go away on their own, however, when symptoms are more severe, a course of treatment may be required.

There are a couple of home remedies your doctor may recommend when it comes to relieving the symptoms of tonsil stones, these include:

  • Gargling with a salt-water rinse
  • Coughing to loosen up the stones

It is not recommended to remove tonsil stones at home, you may risk damaging the tonsil glands and worsening the condition. Medical procedures for tonsil stone removal include:

  • Antibiotics: Oral bacteria contributes to the growth of tonsil stones, and can even lead to infection. Your medical professional may prescribe antibiotics to help this limit bacterial development.
  • Laser Tonsil Cryptolysis: A minimally invasive medical procedure that shrinks or removes the nooks or pockets found within tonsils to minimize buildup opportunity.
  • Coblation Cryptolysis: An alternative to laser surgery, this procedure requires no heat to minimize the nooks of the tonsil.
  • Tonsillectomy: Tonsil removal is recommended for patients with large tonsils, chronic tonsil stones, and chronic tonsil inflammation.

Preventing Tonsil Stones

Since tonsil stones are formations of debris and bacteria buildup, preventing them can be relatively simple when the proper steps are taken, this includes following a complete oral hygiene routine.

  • Brush your teeth twice a day or after meals: Use an anti-bacterial toothpaste like Crest Pro-Health to better neutralize plaque and limit the spread of oral bacteria into the throat.
  • Floss at least once a day: Food and plaque gets trapped between teeth throughout the day, flossing helps remove that debris from hard to reach areas.
  • Clean your tongue regularly: Bacteria can lurk anywhere in the mouth, especially on the surface of the tongue. Consider switching to an electric toothbrush equipped with a tongue cleaning mode like the Oral-B Genius 8000 to easily add the step into your daily routine.
  • Rinse and gargle with salt water or an alcohol-free mouthwash in the morning, night, and after meals. Oral-B Breath Therapy Special Care Oral Rinse is scientifically formulated by oral health experts to neutralize bad breath.
  • See your dental professional at least twice a year for cleanings and checkups.

In addition to a thorough oral care routine, it’s important to drink plenty of water in order to prevent tonsil stones. Hydration helps limit buildup and keep saliva production up for a healthy mouth.

If your tonsil stones continue to be a problem and are painful, see your medical professional right away for treatment.


This blog has been reviewed and approved by Dr Robert Lee,
a dental professional of 35 years

Dr. Lee