Tonsil stones are hard white or yellow formations that are located on your tonsils. In many cases, you can use home remedies to dislodge tonsil stones, but in some cases, you may need antibiotics or surgery.

Tonsil stones are also known as tonsilloliths. They are generally not dangerous, but they may cause you to have a sore throat or bad breath.

Read on to learn more about how tonsil stones form, how to remove them, and what can cause them.

Your tonsils contain many crevices, tunnels, and pits called tonsil crypts. Their job is to trap viruses, bacteria, fungi, and other germs and help teach your immune system how to fight infections.

In some people, the crevices can trap additional debris, such as food, dead cells, or other bacteria. Calcium can build up around the trapped substances, causing tonsil stones to form.

Here is what tonsil stones usually look like:

Tonsil stones may be asymptomatic (you won’t know you have them) if they are small.

Symptoms of larger tonsil stones can include:

Smaller tonsil stones may look like white or yellow specks on your tonsils, while larger stones may be easier to see and even stick out from your tonsils.

Most tonsilloliths are harmless, but you may want to remove them because they can smell bad or cause discomfort. Treatments range from home remedies to medical procedures.


Gargling vigorously with salt water can ease throat discomfort and may help dislodge tonsil stones. It can also help get rid of the odor tonsil stones can cause. Dissolve 1/2 teaspoon (tsp) salt in 8 ounces (oz) of warm water, and gargle.


You may first discover that you have tonsil stones when you cough one up. Energetic coughing may help you loosen your stones.

Manual removal

Removing the stones yourself with rigid items, such as a toothbrush, can cause harm to your tonsils. Your tonsils are delicate tissues, so it’s important to be gentle.

Manually removing tonsil stones can be harmful and lead to complications, such as bleeding and infection. If you decide to try to remove them manually, gently using a water pick or a cotton swab is a better choice than a toothbrush.

Doctors may recommend minor surgical procedures if stones become particularly large or cause pain or persistent symptoms.

Coblation cryptolysis

Coblation cryptolysis is a form of laser resurfacing that can help smooth out the crevices that trap the debris in the first place.

Doctors often perform this procedure using local anesthesia. Laser procedures typically cause less discomfort and have a shorter recovery time. According to on 2021 study, the procedure may be superior to tonsillectomies, despite their popularity in the United States.


A tonsillectomy is the surgical removal of your tonsils. This procedure may be done using a scalpel, laser, or coblation device.

Doctors who recommend tonsillectomy for tonsil stones tend to use it only for severe, chronic cases and after you have tried other methods without success.


In some cases, a doctor may recommend antibiotics to manage tonsil stones. You can use them to lower the bacteria counts that play a crucial role in the development and growth of tonsil stones. However, biofilm can be resistant to antibiotics.

The exact way that tonsil stones form is not completely understood. It is known that they are made up of a material called biofilm, which is a collection of microorganisms on a surface.

In the mouth, biofilm is a combination of your own mouth’s bacteria and fungi interacting with your mouth’s chemistry. This mixture then attaches itself to any moist surface.

In the case of tonsil stones, the material becomes hardened within the tonsils. Another common biofilm in the mouth is plaque.

Factors that may contribute to the formation of tonsil stones include:

While rare, you may develop complications from tonsil stones. For example, the proliferation of bacteria within the stones can cause halitosis or bad breath and may also lead to tooth decay.

Large tonsil stones can also damage and disrupt typical tonsil tissue. This can lead to significant swelling, inflammation, and infection.

Tonsil stones linked to tonsil infections may also require surgery.

Tonsil stones are a common problem. Though they can bring a range of symptoms, tonsil stones rarely result in serious complications.

If you have frequent tonsil stones, be sure to practice good dental hygiene and stay hydrated.

Talk with a doctor if they become a problem or you’re concerned about them. They may be able to provide additional suggestions for removing them or recommend surgical removal in some cases.

Several conditions, including chronic tonsillitis (inflamed tonsils) and strep throat, can affect the tonsils.


Strep throat is a bacterial infection caused by Streptococcus. In most cases, a person will experience symptoms of an infection, such as fever, sore throat, red sores on the roof of the mouth, swollen lymph nodes, and other symptoms.

Tonsil stones may cause irritation or some swelling, but they will not generally cause a fever or other major symptoms. You are also likely to notice a foul sulfur-like odor coming from the stones that are not typically present with strep.


Tonsillitis occurs as a symptom of several different bacterial and viral infections. The tonsils are lymph nodes that can become inflamed when coming in contact with bacteria or viruses.

Tonsillitis causes similar symptoms to strep throat, but strep is only one of many different potential causes of tonsillitis.

Tonsil cancer

Tonsil cancer is a type of head, neck, and oropharynx cancer. It can cause several symptoms, including blood in the mouth, sores that won’t heal, and trouble swallowing. It may also cause a sore throat.

There are also other cancers that spread to the tonsils. They include:

Gum disease and tooth decay

Tooth decay can cause severe pain that radiates to some surrounding areas, like your ears or jaw. Gum disease (gingivitis) is an infection that, when left untreated, can spread to other areas of your body.

These conditions can cause pain in the teeth or gums and make it difficult to eat, but they do not usually affect the throat.

The following sections offer some answers to some commonly asked questions you may be interested in knowing more about.

Are tonsil stones serious?

Tonsil stones are generally not serious. They can cause a sore throat and bad smell if they are large but do not typically cause worsening symptoms.

How can you prevent tonsil stones?

If you have tonsil stones, they may occur on a regular basis. Fortunately, you can take steps to prevent them, such as:

  • practicing good oral hygiene, including cleaning the bacteria off the back of your tongue when you brush your teeth
  • quitting smoking if you smoke
  • gargling with salt water
  • drinking plenty of water to stay hydrated

Are tonsil stones contagious?

Tonsil stones are not contagious. The debris that accumulates in the tonsils can trap microbes. However, the debris hardens, preventing spread.

Tonsil stones are a generally non-threatening buildup of bacteria and debris in the crevices of your tonsils. Smaller ones may not cause symptoms, but larger ones may cause bad breath or a sore throat.

You may be able to remove them at home with solutions such as a saltwater gargle, coughing, or using a water pick. If you can’t remove them yourself and cause you discomfort, you can talk to a doctor for other removal options.