Why Do Tonsil Stones Smell So Bad?

Have you ever had an unpleasant feeling at the back of your throat and spotted something grainy and whitish at the back of your throat? Do you have a sore throat, extremely bad breath, and difficulty swallowing?


You are most likely suffering from a common case of tonsil stones.


What Are Tonsil Stones?

Stand in front of a mirror and go AH! You will notice two lumps of tissue on either side at the back of your throat. These fleshy pads are called palatine tonsils. They are a part of your lymphatic system.


In the earlier days of medical science, tonsillectomy or removal of tonsils was a common practice at the first sign of infection. Medical knowledge of the time deemed these organs useless. However, they have since then lost their ‘useless’ tag.


The lymphatic or lymphoid system is part of your body’s line of defense. In their role as a type of lymph node, tonsils act as bouncers in your throat. They hinder the entrance of foreign objects into your lungs. They also create defensive white blood cells and antibodies and prevent the entry of bacteria and viruses.


Due to their irregular surface, sometimes, bits of food we consume get stuck in their deep groves. It also traps mucus in its small pockets. Once trapped, this debris calcifies over time and turns into what are known as tonsil stones.


These hardened stones are also called tonsil calculi or tonsilloliths. They appear white or yellow in appearance and are usually small in size. However, there have been rare occurrences of large tonsilloliths. They are also usually visible from your own point of view unless they are embedded deep within the tissue.


Depending on their size, they can easily be treated and do not pose a significant health risk. They range in size but are usually small. They can also be one or several. If they are fairly small in size, they might not even present with any symptoms.


How Do You Know You Have Tonsil Stones?

When tonsils entrap debris—food, bacteria, and mucus in their crypts, they are usually flushed away by saliva or any other liquid that you consume. When not flushed away, this debris hardens as calcium forms around it.


The gradual buildup of the calcified lump contributes to the increase in size. It will present with physical symptoms such as soreness and swelling. The affected individual is likely to feel the presence of something obstructive in the throat. Due to its obstructive nature, one may experience pain and difficulty while swallowing.


Sore throat or cough, inflamed tonsils, and ear pain are part of the painful symptoms associated with tonsil stones. If a tonsil stone gets to a problematic size, it can even obstruct breathing since it is in the path of the airway.


Another nasty symptom that points towards the presence of tonsil stones is halitosis or bad breath. Albeit not a painful symptom as compared to the rest, it can be a nightmare to deal with.


Sometimes, tonsil stones provoke an infection of the tonsils. This is known as tonsillitis. In addition to fever and headache, the infection manifests with the same symptoms as that of tonsil stones.


Why Are They So Smelly?

People with a case of tonsil stones may experience foul breath. Since tonsil stones are a direct result of trapped substances in the deep folds of the tonsil tissue, they become a playground for bacteria to work their nastiness.


A study has shown that the foul smell emitting from the stones is because they are being worked on by anaerobic bacteria. Anaerobic bacteria do not require oxygen to thrive, and their popular hangout spots include our mouth, gastrointestinal tract, and female privates.


Tonsil stones are covered in layers of microbes that release smelly sulfur compounds. Given that they are leftover remnants of food and mucus found in the crypts of the tonsil and worked on by bacteria, it makes sense as to why they would smell so bad!


What Causes Tonsil Stones?

The calcified deposits around your tonsils are simply the accumulation of food particles, mucus, bacteria, dead cells, etc. The shape of a person’s tonsils plays a role in the formation of tonsil stones.


Some people have deeper crevices on the surface of their tonsils. This makes the tonsil the perfect collection spot for the debris that is passing by. This debris gets impacted, and calcium deposits form, turning them into tonsil stones.


The likelihood of tonsil stone formation increases with the size and number of crevices in the tonsils. This is why some people are more prone to tonsil stones than others.

How to Treat Tonsil Stones?

Tonsil stones can be easily treated at home, and most do not require any medical intervention unless they present with severe symptoms or multiple recurrences.


  • Cough It Up. One may dislodge tonsil stones through vigorous coughing. Once they have been loosened, just spit them out.
  • Gargle It Out. Mix salt in a glass of warm water and use it to gargle vigorously. This will not only aid in dislodging the entrapped tonsil stones but will also soothe the pain caused due to the inflammation.
  • You can also use a mix of water and dilute vinegar to gargle with. The acidity of vinegar may disintegrate the tonsil stones.
  • Pick It Out. If you are brave enough, you can manually extract tonsil stones. However, extreme care must be taken since tonsils are delicate, and any rough handling can injure the tissue and result in an infection.

Use a cotton swab to push against the tissue and gently press the stone forward into the oral cavity. Make sure you do not scrape or use any other hard substances during extraction. You can also make use of a water pick on a low setting to dislodge and wash them out.


  • Have a Piece of Garlic. Eat a little garlic. Garlic, with its antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal properties, could aid in suppressing harmful bacteria and infection.
  • Spoon in Some Yogurt. Yogurt’s probiotic properties mean it could combat the nasty tonsil stone-causing bacteria.
  • Chew on Some Carrots. Chewing increases saliva production. Increased saliva production will aid in combating the bacteria and flushing out the tonsil stones.
  • Onion Your Meals. Onion may boost strong antibacterial compounds. The inclusion of onion in your daily diet may help combat tonsil stones or even prevent their formation in the first place.
  • Antibiotics to the Rescue. Sometimes, a doctor may ply you with antibiotics to battle against the bacteria. However, they will only cover up the tonsil stones without treating the root cause of their formation.
  • Surgical Procedure. In severe cases or with persistent recurrences, a doctor may recommend surgical intervention. There are multiple surgical avenues to explore with tonsil removal depending upon the size and severity of the case.


How Do You Prevent Them?

Tonsil stones are not a serious cause for concern. However, they can be very annoying due to their painful nature and foul smell. Since prevention is better than cure, what are some ways in which you can most likely prevent their recurrence or formation?


Oral Hygiene

Maintaining a regular routine of excellent oral hygiene will help prevent the formation of tonsil stones. Brush and floss your teeth thoroughly using the proper technique twice a day. This will prevent leftover bits of food from collecting in the folds of your tonsil.


Use a non-alcoholic-based mouthwash as a defense against the bad bacteria in your mouth. This will also help prevent bad breath.



Drink a sufficient amount of water throughout the day. Water will help flush any particles in your oral cavity and prevent them from taking residence in any of the dark corners.



One must not brush immediately after a meal since it plays a role in enamel erosion. So, how do you get immediately rid of the remnants of your food?


Rinse your mouth with water and gargle for a few seconds using warm salt water. This will not only dislodge can stragglers in your oral cavity but also soothe your tonsils and prevent any possibility of an infection.



A surefire way for preventing the recurrence of tonsil stones is through a tonsillectomy. It is the surgical removal of tonsils. It is also the last resort treatment for those with chronic issues.


Parting Thoughts

Tonsils are an important part of our system as opposed to earlier beliefs. They work to combat infections and filter out invaders. However, sometimes, they become the cause of irritation.


Their role in the creation of tonsil stones results in distressing symptoms. Tonsil stones are accompanied by pain and unpleasant smells. While not a serious health risk, it is important to treat them and prevent them from occurring.


Knowing their cause makes it easier to treat them and prevent recurrences in the future. One must follow good oral hygiene and proper hydration to prevent their formation.


While in most cases, tonsil stones are just a minor inconvenience, it is always better to consult a doctor to ensure proper treatment and care. In rare cases, they could be an underlying symptom of something more problematic.