A man using a mouthwash in a bathroom

Tonsil Stones & Bad Breath: Causes

If you're experiencing bad breath, irritation or can see a white-coloured dot at the back of your throat, you might have tonsil stones. It's rare to develop tonsil stones and even rarer to develop serious problems from them, so don’t worry. We're here to walk you through what exactly they are and what you need to know about them.

What causes tonsil stones

First off, how do you find your tonsils? Just look into a mirror (or camera phone), open your mouth and say "ah" like you're at the dentist's. You should have a great view of the back of your throat and two glands called the tonsils.

Surprisingly, the tonsils are part of your body's defence system. They assist the immune system by blocking unwanted viruses and bacteria from entering your body through your mouth and throat. The same layer of mucous that protects your mouth covers your tonsils to help them do their job.

Around the tonsils are pits and crypts (small crevices) that sometimes get clogged with bacteria, food or other material. If this material gets stuck and hardens or calcifies, it can turn into a tonsil stone.

Some people are more likely to develop tonsil stones than others, especially those whose tonsils are inflamed.

Are they causing your bad breath?

Bad breath, also called halitosis, is the most common complaint of those with tonsil stones.

Tonsil stones smell bad for some, but others don't cause any symptoms. In most cases, they aren't of concern to your health. Some people may never get a tonsil stone, while others may get several a week without issue.

Remember that just because you have bad breath doesn't mean you have tonsil stones. There are many causes of bad breath and tonsil stones are among the less likely reasons. So, just because you have bad breath doesn't mean you have tonsil stones.

Other tonsil stone troubles

Tonsil stones, also called tonsilloliths, can lead to a sore throat, swelling or even difficulty swallowing.

The stones vary in size, from barely noticeable to several centimetres large. The smaller they are, the less likely they are to cause problems. Doctors even removed one that was 3.1 x 2.3 cm large from a 45-year-old man. It's highly unlikely that yours are anywhere close to as large, so don't worry!

If you're experiencing any severe symptoms, be sure to check in with a doctor.

What you can do about them

We know that tonsil stones can cause stress, but remember, they don't require treatment in most cases. If you're still worried, we've got your back with some tips for treatment and prevention.

How to help get rid of tonsil stones:

  • Warm salt water can free tonsil stones and help discomfort
  • Use mouthwash to help manage bad breath
  • In rare cases, doctors recommend surgical removal
  • Most cases don't require you to do anything at all

How to prevent tonsil stones:

  • Brush your teeth twice daily and floss once to minimise bacteria
  • Avoid smoking and other tobacco products
  • Stay hydrated

If your tonsil stones are causing extreme discomfort, difficulty breathing or swallowing, or any other symptoms, be sure to talk to a doctor.

If you have tonsil stones, take heart in the fact that they often require no treatment. You can minimise your chances of getting tonsil stones with easy steps like practising proper dental hygiene, gargling with a saltwater rinse and avoiding tobacco products. Luckily, these tips will also help out with any bad breath you might be experiencing.


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This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.