Tonsil stones, or tonsilloliths, are hard, sometimes painful bits of bacteria and debris that get stuck in nooks on your tonsils.

Causes of Tonsilloliths

  • 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.

  • Tonsil stones form when this debris hardens, or calcifies.

  • This tends to happen most often in people who have long-term inflammation in their tonsils or repeated cases of tonsillitis.

  • Many people have small tonsilloliths, but it’s rare to have a large tonsil stone.

Symptoms of Tonsilloliths

Bad breath

  • A main sign of a tonsil stone is severely bad breath, or halitosis, that comes along with a tonsil infection.

  • One study of patients with a form of long-term tonsillitis checked their breath for things called volatile sulfur compounds, which can mean bad breath.

  • The researchers found that 75% of the people who had unusually high amounts of these compounds also had tonsil stones.

Sore throat

When you get a tonsil stone and tonsillitis together, it can be hard to figure out which is causing pain in your throat. The tonsil stone itself might give you pain or discomfort.


A stone might irritate your throat and make you cough.

White debris

You might be able to see a tonsil stone in the back of your throat as a lump of solid white material.

Trouble swallowing

Depending on the location or size of the tonsil stone, it may be hard or painful to swallow food or liquids.

Ear pain

  • 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.

Tonsil swelling.

When debris hardens and a tonsil stone forms, inflammation, infection, and the tonsil stone itself may make your tonsil swell.

Diagnosisof Tonsilloliths

Your doctor can usually diagnose tonsil stones with a physical exam. If they’re hidden in the folds of your tonsils, you might need imaging tests, such as CT or MRI scans, to spot them.

Treatment of Tonsilloliths


Medications may help, but they have side effects and can’t fix what’s causing your tonsil stones.

Surgical removal

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


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


This uses a laser or a radiofrequency wand to scar your tonsils, making tonsil stones less likely.

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