If you’ve never had problems with your tonsils, you’ve likely not given them much thought. For some, however, their tonsils can be the bane of their existence. One of the most common issues people experience with their tonsils is tonsil stones.
If you’ve ever noticed yellowish-white spots at the back of your throat, you’ve had tonsil stones. For some, they are not much of a problem at all, but for others, they can be very uncomfortable.
What Are Tonsil Stones?
Tonsil stones are hard white or yellow formations that form on your tonsils. They are also called tonsilloliths, or tonsilliths . Your tonsils are the small fleshy pads of tissue at the back of both sides of your mouth. They produce white blood cells and antibodies that help detect and filter bacteria and viruses that enter through your mouth.
Typically, these stones are about the size of gravel, though sometimes they are so small that you can’t see them with the naked eye. In this case, you likely won’t even notice that they’re there. In general, they do not pose a serious health risk, and you can usually remove them quite easily .
What Causes Them?
Your tonsils are covered in the same mucous membrane that covers the rest of your mouth, nose, and throat. It is the crevices in your tonsils, however, that can lead to problems . If the pits or craters in your tonsils are deep enough, they can sometimes catch food particles, bacteria, saliva, or mucus. As these substances get pressed into the craters, tonsil stones can develop.
Your body’s white blood cells then attack these foreign objects. Once they are done, hard particles can remain on the tonsils. In most cases, you will simply swallow those particles and never know what had happened. If they get stuck, however, they continue to grow and you end up with tonsil stones .
Possible causes include:
- poor dental hygiene
- large tonsils
- chronic sinus issues
- chronic tonsillitis (inflamed tonsils) 
What are the Symptoms of Tonsil Stones?
Common signs and symptoms of tonsil stones include:
- Tonsil redness and irritation
- Bad breath due to the bacteria that collect on them
- Sore throat
- Trouble swallowing
- Ear pain
- Ongoing cough
- Swollen tonsils
- White or yellow debris on the tonsil 
Anyone who has lots of crevices, or crypts, on their tonsils will be more likely to develop stones. While they are more common in teenagers, people of any age can get them.
How do Prevent and Treat Tonsil Stones?
The best way to prevent tonsil stones is to keep your tonsils free of debris. To do this, you should brush your teeth and tongue regularly and thoroughly. Gargling with salt water after eating can also help prevent the buildup of particles or bacteria.
Some people self-treat their stones at home, particularly those who are relatively prone to them. To do this, they simply remove the stones gently with a toothbrush or a cotton swab. If you are able to remove them easily, they shouldn’t cause any problems.
If you have recurring tonsils stones that cause you a lot of discomfort, a tonsillectomy (having your tonsils removed) may be your best option. While this is a fairly rudimentary procedure, there are still risks involved, since it still is a surgery. Talk to your doctor about your options to determine if removing your tonsils is the best option for you .
Practice Good Oral Hygiene
Whether you struggle with tonsil stones or not, good oral hygiene is still very important. Allowing bacteria and germs to build up in your teeth, gums, and mouth can lead to larger health issues down the road.
Always ensure that you are brushing your teeth twice per day, and visiting your dentist for regular cleanings. This way, if any problems do arise, you can catch them early and take care of them right away.
- “Tuesday Q and A: Self-care steps may help prevent tonsil stones from returning.” News Network. Liza Torborg. October 14, 2014.
- “Tonsil Stones Might Be Causing Your Bad Breath.” Cleveland Clinic. June 1, 2020.
- “Tonsil Stones: Causes, Removal & Prevention.” Live Science. Alina Bradford. September 12, 2017.
- “Tonsil stones: causes, symptoms, & how to remove them.” Open Care. February 1, 2021