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Tonsil Stones: The Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

If you’ve ever noticed yellowish-white patches on your tonsils (the oval-shaped pads of tissue on either side of the back of the mouth that you must open wide and examine with a mirror), you may have tonsil stones, a very common disease. It is different from Tonsillitis, because its common name is Tonsilloliths. These deposits, sometimes known as tonsilloliths or tonsilliths, can develop, harden, and expand on and within the tonsils.

Tonsil stones are typically around the size of gravel, but they can sometimes be quite small – sometimes so little that they are invisible to the human eye. In extremely rare instances, they can grow to the size of a golf ball or larger if allowed to grow over an extended length of time. They are typically soft, but can become hard, and are a light yellowish or white tint.

Generally, these spots pose no major health risks and can be easily eliminated at home. These stones are not indicative of illness or disease, and they typically have no adverse effect on your health.

They may, however, create unpleasant symptoms such as bad breath and throat irritation. They are also a nuisance, as they can regrow frequently after being removed. 

Explained below is everything you need to know about tonsil stones such as why they occur, the symptoms they cause, and how to treat them.

Frequently Asked Questions & Answers

Why do I continue to develop tonsil stones?

Tonsil stones occur when food particles, bacteria, saliva, or other waste are caught in the crevices of the tonsils. The anatomy of your tonsils is one of the typical elements that raises your risk of developing tonsil stones. Individuals with smoother tonsils are less prone to develop them, but those with bumpier ones are more likely.

How do I determine whether I have tonsil stones?

Tonsil stones appear on your tonsils as little white or pale yellow lumps. They are often gravel-sized or slightly larger. They might have an unpleasant odour and contribute to bad breath. Additional common symptoms include a sore throat, the sense that something is lodged in the back of your throat, and difficulty swallowing.

What should I do if I develop tonsil stones?
Tonsilitis child

Tonsil stones are frequently not a major health condition and can be treated at home. Generally, you can remove tonsil stones with a cotton swab or your finger. If that procedure makes you gag, try flushing the stones out with a water flosser. Avoid dislodging stones with a sharp object.

Is it necessary for me to see a doctor about tonsil stones?

If you are unable to clear a stone on your own or if they recur frequently, consult your doctor. Although tonsil stones are rarely an emergency, a medical expert may offer various surgical treatments (such as tonsillectomy or cryptolysis to smooth the tonsil surface) if the  symptoms are impairing your quality of life.

How can I avoid developing tonsil stones?
dental hygiene

While poor dental hygiene does not always result in tonsil stones, it is one of the most effective ways to avoid the problem in the first place. Brush and floss your teeth regularly, and gargle with water or mouth rinse periodically as well.

Tonsil Stones: Signs and Symptoms

Tonsil stones are frequently associated with foul breath and discomfort. These symptoms, together with the presence of white flecks at the back of the throat, typically prompt people to seek medical attention, according to Aaron Thatcher, an assistant professor in the University of Michigan’s department of otolaryngology–head and neck surgery in Ann Arbor. “Some patients may see stains in their mouth, while others may experience chronic sore throat or soreness,” he explains. “Others may seek treatment from a physician or dentist for poor breath.”

Additionally, you may experience no symptoms at all. “Tonsil stones can be rather frequent,” Dr. Thatcher explains. “However, in other individuals, they may be minuscule and buried so deeply that they are not visible.” Thatcher argues that this is one reason doctors believe the illness is under-diagnosed.

Typical symptoms of tonsil stones include the following: 
Bad breath woman
  • Persistently foul smelling breath
  • Tonsil lumps that are pale yellow or white in color and the size of gravel
  • Throat irritation
  • The feeling that something is trapped in the back of your throat
  • Difficulties in swallowing
swallowing difficulties

If you notice swelling, inflammation, bleeding in your tonsils, asymmetry (one side is larger, looks different, or is more painful than the other), ear pain, difficulty swallowing, or a persistent sore throat lasting more than a month, consult your doctor immediately. These symptoms may indicate a more serious illness such as strep throat, tonsillitis, or even cancer.

Tonsil Stones: Causes and Risk Factors

In certain people, the surface of the tonsils is more uneven than smooth, with deep grooves and pockets known as “crypts” that trap food particles, bacteria, saliva, and other detritus. “Food, plaque, and cellular debris such as skin cells and the mouth lining all accumulate in the pits and crevices,” explains Jennifer Setlur, an otolaryngologist at Massachusetts Eye and Ear Hospital in Boston. These materials become influenced through time, and eventually evolve into stones.

Tonsil stones frequently induce bad breath due to the bacteria contained within the growths.

It is a widespread misunderstanding that having tonsil stones indicates inadequate dental hygiene. This is not always the case as the shape of your tonsils plays a larger role. The reason that individuals with a greater number of crypts are more likely to develop growths is that those fissures allow food and debris to accumulate. “It has to do with the tonsil structure,” Thatcher explains.

However, it should be emphasized that poor oral hygiene can lead to the development of tonsil stones. Meanwhile, brushing, flossing, and gargling water in the back of the throat on a regular basis are critical strategies to help prevent the problem.