What are tonsil stones?

Tonsilloliths also known as tonsil calculi or tonsil stones are clusters of calcified material that gather in the crevices of the tonsils. While they commonly occur in the palastine tonsils, they are also known to develop in the lingual tonsils. Tonsilloliths are mainly composed of calcium, however these do not rule out other minerals such as magnesium, phosphorus and ammonia.

Tonsils are structures that resemble glands located at the back of your throat. Everyone has 2 of these structures, each set in a crevice on each side of your throat. The structures contains lymphocytes; these are cells in the body that fight or prevent infections. Health experts believe that tonsils play a major role your immune system by trapping incoming bacteria or virus trying to get into the body via the throat.

tonsil stones


Medical experts believe that in most circumstances, tonsils do not function as required. Rather than work to trap harmful organisms and assist your immune system, they often get in the way and cause more trouble than good .Some schools of thought argue that tonsils may have evolved when humans were less exposed to many germs compared to what people are exposed today. Studies show that individuals who have had the glands removed are not at higher risk of developing viral or bacterial infections compared to those with tonsils.

Normally tonsils have crevices where harmful microorganisms and other debris such as mucous and dead cells get trapped. The trapped debris accumulates and concentrates in white clusters that develop in the crevices. Tonsilloliths develop when the debris calcifies or hardens. This happens mostly in people who experience recurrent infections in their tonsils or chronic tonsilillitis. Normally a majority of people have small occasional inflammations that occur in their tonsils, but it is quite hard to have large and solidified tonsilloliths.

Symptoms of tonsil stones

In most cases, tonsilloliths do not cause symptoms. Even when these infections are large, solidified clusters may only be discovered during X-rays or CT scans. In spite of this, larger tonsilloliths may have many symptoms. These include:

Sore throat

Tonsilloliths and tonsillitis may occur together. In such instances, it can quite hard to figure out whether the painful sensation in your throat is due to infections or tonsilloliths. The presence of the solidified lump may also cause you to experience discomfort or pain in the region where it is located.

Bad breath

Halitosis is one of the main signs of a tonsil stone. A study involving patients with recurrent tonsillitis used a special test to find out whether sulfur compounds were contained in the subject’s breath. The presence of these foul-smelling compounds is usually enough evidence of a tonsil stone. Researchers discovered that 75 percent of individuals who had high levels of sulfur also suffered from tonsil calculi.

White debris

Some tonsilloliths can be seen in the back of your throat as a mass of solid white debris; however this is usually not the case. Most of the time these stones are concealed in the crevices of tonsils and may only be detected with the assistance of non-invasive techniques such as magnetic resonance imaging or CT scans.

Apart from the symptoms stipulated above, tonsil stones can manifest with other signs including ear pain, difficulty swallowing and tonsil swelling.