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Updated on July 13, 2022

5 Ways to Get Rid of Tonsil Stones Yourself

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What are Tonsil Stones?

Tonsil stones (also called tonsilloliths or tonsilliths) are small, calcified deposits that sometimes form on the surface of the tonsils. They’re often visible as white or yellow lumps in the back of your throat.

While tonsil stones aren’t generally considered a serious health risk, they sometimes feel uncomfortable. They might also cause bad breath and/or a bad taste in the mouth. But in most cases, you can easily remove them at home.

man looking at reflection while holding toothbrush

Symptoms & Causes of Tonsil Stones 

The surfaces of your tonsils contain multiple small pockets or folds, known as tonsillar crypts. Over time, these crypts can accumulate material, which then hardens or calcifies, resulting in pebble-like tonsil stones.

In addition to calcified solid material, tonsil stones often contain multiple living microorganisms, such as bacteria.1

The following may contribute to the formation of tonsil stones:

  • Food debris
  • Bacteria
  • Fungi
  • Mucus
  • Dead cells

Tonsil stones often occur on their own. But they may cause, or be caused by, chronic tonsillitis.2 Recurrent infections cause inflammation, which can enlarge the tonsillar crypts.3

Possible symptoms of tonsil stones include:

  • The feeling of something stuck in your throat
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Bad breath, possibly smelling like sulphur1
  • Sore throat
  • Cough

If your tonsil stones are part of a tonsillitis infection, you might also notice the following symptoms:

  • Swollen tonsils
  • Tonsil or throat redness
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Fever

5 Ways to Get Rid of Tonsil Stones Yourself

Tonsil stones can be annoying, but fortunately, they’re often easy to get rid of at home. Here are five methods you can try:

1. Gargle

Gargling with warm salt water can sometimes dislodge tonsil stones. Salt water rinses can also relieve discomfort and promote healing.4

You can also try gargling with watered-down vinegar. Studies have found vinegar to be effective at destroying bacterial biofilms associated with tonsilitis.5, 6

2. Use an Object

You can use a cotton swab, a tongue depressor, or the back of a toothbrush to push the tonsil stones out. Be careful not to use a sharp object, like a toothpick, which could injure you.

Also avoid using your fingers to dislodge the stones. Doing so might scratch your tonsils or introduce them to the bacteria from your fingers.2

3. Use a Water Flosser

A water flosser or oral irrigator provides a safe, contact-free way to remove tonsil stones.7 Keep the water pressure low to avoid irritation or injury.

4. Cough

In some cases, a powerful cough can be enough to knock tonsil stones loose.2

5. Wait it Out

Tonsil stones sometimes go away on their own. Regular brushing, flossing, and gargling might be sufficient to get rid of them over time. Good oral hygiene can also help prevent tonsil stones.1, 2

When to See a Dentist for Tonsil Stones

Talk to your doctor or dentist about tonsil stones that:

  • Recur
  • Cause constant pain or discomfort
  • Make talking, breathing, or sleeping difficult
  • Occur together with a tonsil or throat infection

These cases may require professional care, whether to get rid of the tonsil stones or to treat an underlying infection.

Diagnosis

Your doctor or dentist can diagnose tonsil stones by visually examining them. They might examine them further after removal.

If you’re suffering from other symptoms of tonsil or throat infection, they might administer a throat swab or other test to determine the cause. 

Medical Treatments

Tonsil stones may not require treatment beyond removing them and maintaining good oral hygiene. If you have a hard time removing them at home, your dentist or doctor will help.

Tonsil stones that are especially large or otherwise problematic may need to be removed surgically.2

In some cases, when more conservative options have failed, your doctor or dentist might recommend tonsillectomy.7 Tonsillectomy is the complete surgical removal of the tonsils.

Tonsillectomy can have a positive impact on quality of life in people with severe, recurring throat or tonsil infections.8 In other cases, it provides little or no benefit.9 It can also lead to complications, including postoperative bleeding.10

If you’re concerned your tonsil stones might warrant tonsillectomy, or you simply want to know your treatment options, consult your doctor or dentist.

Complications

Tonsil stones left alone may not cause severe complications, though it’s possible they will continue to be bothersome. If they’re a symptom of chronic tonsillitis, visit your doctor.

Tonsillitis can cause missed school, work, and other activities. It can sometimes lead to peritonsillar abscess, and even rheumatic fever or kidney inflammation (though these are rare in the developed world).11

Prevention

You can prevent tonsil stones from forming by maintaining good oral hygiene, including the occasional salt water rinse after meals. This clears away food debris that may contribute to tonsil stone formation.1

Good oral hygiene includes brushing the teeth and tongue, flossing, and avoiding smoking. 

Summary

Tonsil stones are a common occurrence, and they’re rarely indicative of severe health issues. Many people don’t even notice that they have them.

In some cases, though, tonsil stones can be irritating. They can make it hard to swallow and cause bad breath. They may also be a sign, or a cause, of chronic tonsillitis.

You can often safely remove tonsil stones at home. If they recur frequently, or if they come along with chronic throat or tonsil infections, your doctor will provide alternative treatment options.

11 Sources Cited
Last updated on July 13, 2022
All NewMouth content is medically reviewed and fact-checked by a licensed dentist or orthodontist to ensure the information is factual, current, and relevant.

We have strict sourcing guidelines and only cite from current scientific research, such as scholarly articles, dentistry textbooks, government agencies, and medical journals. This also includes information provided by the American Dental Association (ADA), the American Association of Orthodontics (AAO), and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
  1. Yellamma Bai, K, and B Vinod Kumar. “Tonsillolith: A polymicrobial biofilm.Medical journal, Armed Forces India vol. 71,Suppl 1 : S95-8. doi:10.1016/j.mjafi.2011.12.009
  2. Tonsil Stones.” Cleveland Clinic.
  3. White, Stuart C; Pharoah, Michael J. Oral Radiology - E-Book: Principles and Interpretation. Elsevier Health Sciences . p. 527. ISBN 978-0-323-09634-8.
  4. Huynh NC-N, et al. “Rinsing with Saline Promotes Human Gingival Fibroblast Wound Healing In Vitro.PLoS ONE vol. 11,7 : e0159843. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0159843
  5. Al-Saadi, Mohammad AK et al. "Detection of biofilm formation and effect of vinegar on biofilm of Streptococcus pyogenes isolated from patients with tonsillitis." International Journal of PharmTech Research vol. 9,9 : 236-242.
  6. Abu Bakar, Muhamad et al. “Chronic tonsillitis and biofilms: a brief overview of treatment modalities.Journal of inflammation research vol. 11 329-337. 5 Sep. 2018, doi:10.2147/JIR.S162486
  7. Wetmore, Ralph F. “Surgical management of the tonsillectomy and adenoidectomy patient.World journal of otorhinolaryngology - head and neck surgery vol. 3,3 176-182. 3 Mar. 2017, doi:10.1016/j.wjorl.2017.01.001
  8. Bhattacharyya N et al. “Efficacy and Quality-of-Life Impact of Adult Tonsillectomy.Arch Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. vol. 127,11 :1347–1350. doi:10.1001/archotol.127.11.1347
  9.   Mitchell, Ron B., et al. “Clinical Practice Guideline: Tonsillectomy in Children (Update).Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery, vol. 160, no. 1_suppl, Feb. 2019, pp. S1–S42, doi:10.1177/0194599818801757.
  10. Chen, Andy Wei-Ge, and Mu-Kuan Chen. “Comparison of Post-Tonsillectomy Hemorrhage between Monopolar and Plasma Blade Techniques.Journal of Clinical Medicine, vol. 10, no. 10, May 2021, p. 2051. Crossref, https://doi.org/10.3390/jcm10102051.
  11. Georgalas, Christos C et al. “Tonsillitis.BMJ clinical evidence vol. 2014 0503. 22 Jul. 2014
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