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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).
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:
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:
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 aren’t the only condition that can affect your tonsils. Other ailments include:
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.
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:
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:
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.
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.
Your doctor may recommend a surgical procedure to remove large stones that cause pain or persistent symptoms.
Surgical treatment options for tonsil stones include:
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.
Yes, there are several steps you can take to prevent tonsil stones from forming or recurring. You can:
Be diligent about your oral hygiene and see a dental hygienist for routine cleanings.
Good oral hygiene at home includes:
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.
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.
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.
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