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Updated on November 6, 2023
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Are Tonsil Stones Contagious?

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Are Tonsil Stones Contagious?

No, tonsil stones are not contagious, nor are they serious health problems. 

While tonsil stones are generally harmless, they can cause trouble swallowing and contribute to bad breath (halitosis).

What are Tonsil Stones?

Tonsil stones (tonsilloliths) are small, hard, white or yellowish deposits that form on the tonsils.

Your tonsils are oval-shaped lymph nodes located at the back of your throat. Each one contains deep pockets and crevices called tonsil crypts. These crypts trap germs so your immune system can learn to fight infections.

Tonsil stones form when various materials accumulate in the crypts and harden or calcify. The hardened material may contain bacteria, food particles, and cellular debris.

Factors that can cause these substances to build up include:

  • Poor oral hygiene
  • Chronic sinus infections
  • Large tonsils
  • Dry mouth

Signs and Symptoms of Tonsil Stones

Some tonsil stones don’t cause symptoms. If the stones are small enough, you may not even realize you have them.

Tonsil stones smell foul. For this reason, bad breath is a relatively noticeable and common symptom of tonsil stones.

Other possible tonsil stone symptoms include:

  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Swollen tonsils
  • Sore throat
  • Ear pain
  • Persistent cough
  • Bad taste in your mouth
  • Small white or yellow stones you may cough up
  • Feeling like something is stuck in the back of your throat

What Do Tonsil Stones Look Like?

Tonsil stones can vary in appearance depending on size. They can range from tiny grains to large stones the size of a pea.

Small stones may look like white or yellow spots on your tonsils. 

Larger stones can look like white or yellow pebbles that stick out of your tonsils.

Tonsil Stones vs. Tonsillitis vs. Oral Cancer

Tonsil stones aren’t the only condition that can affect your tonsils. Other ailments include:

  • Tonsillitis — Inflamed tonsils can result from a viral or bacterial infection. Tonsillitis can cause a sore throat and may lead to tonsil stone formation.
  • Tonsil cancer — This type of cancer can cause throat pain and trouble swallowing. It can also cause mouth bleeding and ulcers that don’t heal.

Is Tonsillitis Contagious? 

Yes, tonsillitis is contagious. The viruses and bacteria that cause tonsil infections can be passed onto others. 

Many common pathogens can cause a tonsil infection, including the Streptococcal bacteria that causes strep throat. Viral tonsillitis accounts for 70 to 95% of cases.1

This is one way tonsillitis differs from tonsil stones, which aren’t contagious.

When to Get Screened for Oral Cancer

Tonsil stones aren’t a significant concern. Swollen tonsils, however, may be a sign of a more serious oral health problem, such as cancer. 

Schedule an appointment with your healthcare provider if you experience:

  • One tonsil that appears redder and more swollen than the other
  • Persistent sore throat
  • Hoarseness or other voice changes
  • Bleeding from your mouth
  • Ear pain on one side
  • Trouble opening your mouth or swallowing
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Severe pain on one side of the neck or throat
  • Swollen lymph nodes 

Treatment for Tonsil Stones

Most tonsil stones are harmless and don’t require medical attention. However, you may want to get rid of tonsil stones if they cause bad breath or discomfort. 

Tonsil stone treatment can range from home remedies to minor surgical procedures. Common treatment options include:


You can treat tonsil stones at home by gargling vigorously with warm salt water. Gargling offers many benefits, including:

  • Can loosen and dislodge tonsil stones
  • Can soothe a sore throat
  • May help treat bad breath

It’s especially helpful to gargle after eating to prevent food particles and dead cells from getting trapped in the tonsillar crypts.


Some people can cough powerfully enough to loosen tonsil stones. You may even discover you have tonsil stones when you accidentally cough one up.

Manual Removal

Don’t use your finger or a toothbrush to remove tonsil stones. This can harm your delicate tonsil tissues.

If gargling and coughing aren’t effective home remedies, gently try removing the tonsil stones with a cotton swab.


Antibiotics usually aren’t necessary because they don’t treat the underlying cause of tonsil stones. But your healthcare provider may prescribe antibiotics if you develop a bacterial infection.

Surgical Removal

Your doctor may recommend a surgical procedure to remove large stones that cause pain or persistent symptoms. 

Surgical treatment options for tonsil stones include:

Coblation Cryptolysis

This is a minimally invasive procedure. It uses radiofrequency energy and saline to gently and precisely remove tonsil stones.

A 2021 study found that coblation cryptolysis is a safe, effective technique that appears superior to other surgical treatments for tonsil stones.3 


A tonsillectomy is the surgical removal of your tonsils. Your surgeon may use a scalpel, laser, or coblation device.

Doctors typically only recommend removing your tonsils for severe and chronic cases of tonsil stones.


This procedure is similar to a tonsillectomy but involves removing only part of the tonsils. Your surgeon will leave some tissue from your tonsils at the back of your throat.

Can You Prevent Tonsil Stones?

Yes, there are several steps you can take to prevent tonsil stones from forming or recurring. You can:

Maintain Good Oral Hygiene

Be diligent about your oral hygiene and see a dental hygienist for routine cleanings.

Good oral hygiene at home includes:

Avoid Smoking

If you smoke, consider quitting. Even if you’re a non-smoker, avoiding secondhand smoke is important.

Smoking dries out your mouth and throat. This makes it easier for bacteria and debris to get stuck in your tonsils.

Stay Hydrated

Dry mouth is a risk factor for tonsil stones. Drinking plenty of water and limiting dehydrating beverages like alcohol keeps your mouth and throat moist.

Use a Water Flosser

If you experience recurring tonsil stones, consider getting a water flosser or oral irrigator. These devices may help flush away food particles and debris before they get caught in your tonsils.

Gargling with salt water after eating can achieve a similar effect.


Tonsil stones are small deposits of white or yellow material that accumulate and harden in the tonsils. A buildup of food particles, cellular debris, and bacteria from the mouth causes them.

Tonsil stones are usually not a cause for concern, but many people find them uncomfortable. Bad breath and difficulty swallowing are common symptoms.

It’s possible to manage tonsil stones with home remedies like gargling or strong coughing. Medical treatments include minor surgical procedures. Good oral health is fundamental for preventing tonsil stones and bad breath.

Last updated on November 6, 2023
5 Sources Cited
Last updated on November 6, 2023
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. Smith, KL, et al. “Tonsillitis and Tonsilloliths: Diagnosis and Management.” American Family Physician, 2023.
  2. Alfayez, A, et al. “A Giant Tonsillolith.” Saudi Medical Journal, 2018.
  3. Chang, CY, and Thrasher, R. “Coblation Cryptolysis to Treat Tonsil Stones: A Retrospective Case Series.” Ear, Nose & Throat Journal, 2012.
  4. Chung, JERE, et al. “Tonsillotomy Versus Tonsillectomy in Adults Suffering from Tonsil-Related Afflictions: A Systematic Review.” Acta-Oto-Laryngologica, 2018.
  5. Elsayad, OA, and Hussein, MS. “Coblation Cryptolysis for Treatment of Tonsillar Stones: A Randomized Clinical Study.” The Egyptian Journal of Otolaryngology, 2021. Aoun, G, et al. “Palatine Tonsilloliths: A Retrospective Study on 500 Digital Panoramic Radiographs.” The Journal of Contemporary Dental Practice, 2018.
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