Tonsil Stones

Ever wondered what those little white lumps are at the back of your throat?

Well they are commonly known as 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 odour or grow quite large and cause your tonsils to swell.

What are Tonsil Stones?

Tonsil stones, or tonsilloliths, occur when debris get trapped in the crevices and pits of the tonsils at the back of the throat. Calcification, a process that transforms the debris into hard /semi soft white or yellow deposits, creates the “stones” which may be uncomfortable for some.

What Causes Tonsil Stones?

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. They are a perfectly normal harmless occurrence, and anyone can get them. Even though they smell and taste quite unpleasant they are not directly linked with poor oral hygiene, although this may increase the frequency and size of them. Some people unfortunately just get them due to the shape of their tonsils and the crevices present, even our own hygienist gets them!

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. Its worth noting though that even those with excellent oral hygiene can get tonsil stones, although with good oral hygiene you can better remove more food debris and plaque bacteria from the surfaces of your teeth, gums, and tongue and this may reduce their occurrence.

What’re the Symptoms of Tonsil Stones?

Tonsil stones can vary in size. In fact, some people may not even realise 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


Tonsil Stone Removal and Treatments

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:

Laser Tonsil Cryptolysis: A minimally invasive medical procedure that shrinks or removes the nooks or pockets found within tonsils to minimise buildup opportunity.

Coblation Cryptolysis: An alternative to laser surgery, this procedure requires no heat to minimise the nooks of the tonsil.

Tonsillectomy: In extreme cases and recurrent episodes of tonsilitis, 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, you can better remove plaque bacteria and buildup by following a complete oral hygiene routine.

Brush your teeth twice a day or after meals: Use an stannous fluoride containing toothpaste to better remove plaque and limit the spread of oral bacteria into the throat.

Clean in between your teeth at least once a day: Food and plaque gets trapped between teeth throughout the day, interdental cleaning helps remove this debris from hard-to-reach areas.

Clean your tongue regularly: Plaque 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 or using a tongue scrapper.

Rinse and gargle with saltwater or an alcohol-free mouthwash (before brushing or at a different time to brushing) if you notice stones are present.

Drink plenty of water to help 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 for treatment.


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