How to Get Rid of Tonsil Stones?

March 29, 2023 | by Dr. Paul Zickler

Tonsil stones are little white or yellow lumps that can be coughed up or seen at the back of your throat.

They smell terrible due to volatile sulfur compounds and bacteria.

Causes of Tonsil Stones

Your tonsils are gland-like structures in the back of your throat. You have one on each side.

Tonsils are made of tissue with lymphocytes, cells that prevent and fight infections.

7 % of the world’s population has tonsil stones.

Many experts think your tonsils play a role in your immune system and are meant to work like nets, trapping bacteria and viruses that come in through your throat. But your tonsils don’t always do their job well.

 For some people, they’re more trouble than help. Research suggests the people who have their tonsils removed are no more likely to get bacterial or viral infections than those people who keep their tonsils.

Your tonsils are filled with nooks and crannies where bacteria and other things, including dead cells and mucus, can get trapped. When this happens, the debris can bond together. 

The researchers found that 75% of the people who had unusually high amounts dead cells and mucus also had tonsil stones.

Tonsil stones are only found in people who have tonsils. Normally the little dead cells in the tonsils shed and are swallowed, but for some people, the dead cells accumulate and form a hard little ball, they also attract bacteria.

75% of the people who had unusually high amounts dead cells and mucus also had tonsil stones.

7 % of the world’s population has tonsil stones. What essentially happens is a piece of matter forms in the crevasses of your tonsils.  

What Are Tonsillar Stone Symptoms? 

Small tonsil stones may not cause any symptoms that you would notice. Even when they are large, some are found only after x-rays or CT scans.

Other symptoms include bad breath or halitosis, that comes along with a tonsil infection.

You may experience sore throat when you get a tonsil stone and tonsillitis together, it can be hard to figure out which is causing the pain in your throat.

The tonsil stone itself might give you pain or discomfort. Having a cough might be initiated by a stone irritating your throat.

Depending on the location or size of the tonsil stone, it may be hard or painful to swallow food or liquids. Tonsil stones can develop anywhere in your tonsil.

Because of shared nerve pathways, you might feel pain in your ear, even though the stone itself isn’t touching your ear.

You may feel or see tonsillar swelling as the debris hardens and a stone form, inflammation, infection and the stone itself may cause this swelling.  

Tonsil stones treatment

Many tonsil stones, especially those that don’t have symptoms, don’t need special treatment. It depends on their size and whether they might cause you a problem. 

To completely remove tonsil stones and prevent them from returning the only option would be surgery for tonsil removal, but other temporary relievers will work. 

1. Self-removal

Some people insist on popping hidden tonsil stones with just their fingernail. This is not sanitary and you may scratch your tonsils.

You can use an oral analgesic like chloraseptic to suppress your gag reflex.

2. Cotton swab

You may use a cotton swab to push against the bottom of the tonsil and push upward until the stones squeeze out.

Moisten the swab with water before sticking the swab into your mouth.

3. Toothbrush

Gently brush the portion of the tonsil where you believe the tonsil stone is. Out of these first three methods, using a toothbrush is the best idea.

Although it may provoke the gag reflex, it is more effective and more sanitary than the first two. Gently brush the portion of the tonsil where you believe the tonsil stone is. 

4. High-tech

A high tech option is a waterpik irrigator. This costs about 40 dollars.

The tongue attachment sprayed directly into the area containing the tonsil stone should immediately dislodge it.

Use the lowest setting possible as any other setting may tear through tonsil tissue.

5. Gargle

Gargling with salt water, cider vinegar, or mouthwash can help to extricate the stone. According to UMMC Health Care, to enhance your unpleasant breath, you could rinse your mouth with a gentle saline solution by mixing half a teaspoon of table salt with eight ounces of warm tap water.

6. Flex

No, not your muscles. Flex your throat, raise your tongue to the roof of your mouth and swallow. This tenses your tonsils and can help your tonsil stones to pop out. 

7. Drink carbonated drinks

Club soda, seltzer water, and tonic water have been helpful in dislodging tonsil stones. This may take a while though. 

8. Medicine droppers

Medicine droppers, especially with a curved tip, can suck out small stones.

First irrigate the area with saline (salt water) and then suck out the stone with the dropper. Be extremely careful when undertaking any of the methods listed above.

The tonsils and throat are incredibly sensitive, and can be injured or aggravated quite easily.  

There are other things that the doctor may do if the above at home remedies don’t work. Surgical removal.

If your tonsil stones are unusually garage or causing problems, your doctor might remove them. 

Tonsillectomy – If tonsil stones are a long-term problem, you might need to have your tonsils taken out. 

Cryptolysis – This uses a laser or a radio frequency wand to scar your tonsils, making tonsil stones less likely to form.  

How can I prevent tonsil stones? 

People who have long-term tonsillitis are more likely to get tonsil stones. The only way to prevent them is to remove your tonsils. 

Good dental habits can help to prevent stones. Brush and floss your teeth regularly to remove bacteria and keep things from getting stuck in your tonsils.

Make sure to brush the front and back of your tongue, too. 

  • Quite smoking. 
  • Gargle with salt water after eating to help prevent food buildup. 
  • Use a water pick to clean your mouth and help dislodge any tonsil stones. Stay hydrated and hopefully keep the stones softer and more mobile by drinking plenty of water (tips to drink more water). 

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Dr. Paul Zickler

About Author

Dr. Paul Zickler

Dr. Paul Zickler graduated from the faculty of medicine at the University of Western Ontario in 1972 and became an Emergency Physician. He practiced as an Emergency Physician for 18 years after which he co-owned and operated several ambulatory medical and travel clinics for 12 years and discovered his interest in prescription medicines. Dr. Zickler was a founding member of the Canadian International Pharmacy Association (CIPA) and was CIPA’s Vice-president for Medical Affairs. He has also served as an Associate Professor of Emergency Medicine at the University of British Columbia, the Director of Professional Programs for the Justice Institute of British Columbia (paramedic academy) and was the principal investigator for Phase 2 and 3 studies researching vaccines.

All posts by Dr. Paul Zickler

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