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Written by Alex Bussey
Edited by Mike Martin
Reviewed by the Your.MD medical team
Tonsil stones are small white or yellow deposits that form on the back of your throat.
They develop when food, bacteria and other debris (waste) gets caught in small folds on the surface of your tonsils. Here they inflame the surrounding tissue and begin to calcify (harden).
The deposits harden because calcium and other minerals build up on the surface of the debris, forming hard lumps that look like tiny rocks on the surface of your tonsils.
Most tonsil stones are harmless, but they can be uncomfortable, and some people find that they make it hard to swallow.
Tonsil stones can also cause bad breath (halitosis), a sore throat or earache, so you want to know safe ways to remove them at home.
You can safely remove tonsil stones at home, but you do need to be careful if you decide to try this, because you don’t want to damage your tonsils or the surrounding tissues.
The aim is to try and dislodge (or move) them, which you can do in the following ways.
Experts recommend using a cotton swab to gently press against the surface of your tonsil stone. You should apply gentle pressure until it falls out into your mouth and you can throw it away.
You can also try using the back of your toothbrush or a dental pick to dislodge tonsil stones. However be gentle, because it’s easy to injure the back of your throat with hard objects like a toothbrush.
You can also try gargling with mouthwash or a saltwater solution to dislodge your tonsil stones. This is also one of the best ways to treat bad breath, which is a common side effect of tonsil stones.
You can make your own saltwater solution at home. To do this, dissolve a teaspoon of salt in a glass of warm water (this helps the salt to dissolve).
Saltwater solutions are completely safe, and you can gargle with them as often as you like.
If you can’t dislodge your tonsil stones at home, see a doctor. They may refer you to an ear nose and throat specialist, who can remove them.
The specialist will normally do this by numbing your throat with local anaesthetic, and then scraping the stones away with a surgical tool called a curette. This tool looks like a stylus or pen with a small metal hook at the tip.
A doctor is unlikely to remove your tonsils unless there’s evidence of chronic infection. This is because the surgery that’s used to remove your tonsils (a tonsillectomy) has a relatively long recovery time.
Tonsillectomies can also cause side effects like infection, swelling in the roof of your mouth, or bleeding in your throat, which is why they’re not recommended for tonsil stones.
There are some things you can do to try and prevent a tonsil stone from forming.
Brushing your teeth is a great place to start, because this prevents bacteria and debris from building up in your mouth.
You can also try washing your mouth with a mouthwash or a saltwater solution to help kill any bacteria.
Some experts suggest avoiding alcohol and cigarettes, because these are thought to encourage the build-up of tonsil stones.
Important: Our website provides useful information but is not a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor when making decisions about your health.