6 Natural Remedies for Tonsil Stones
You may have heard of kidney stones and gallbladder stones, but did you know there are also tonsil stones? Known medically as tonsilloliths or tonsilliths, these tiny stones aren’t serious but they can irritate your throat and cause bad breath. In some cases, they can make it hard to swallow.
Your tonsils have small crevices (crypts) where dead cells, bacteria and debris from the food you eat can collect. The bacteria and debris can harden and form yellow or white stones. Here are some ways you can address tonsil stones at home—and when it’s time to see a doctor.
1Gargle salt water.
Salt water gargles can help dislodge tonsil stones. The most common recipe for salt water gargles is to dissolve a teaspoon of table salt in 8 ounces of warm water. Put some of the salt water in your mouth and tip your head back slightly—not too much to stretch your neck. Gargle for a few seconds and then spit it out. Do not swallow the salt water as this can make you feel sick. Repeat this a few times a day.
Gargling regularly with salt water can also help prevent tonsil stones from forming.
If you don’t like the taste of gargling with salt water, gargling with store-bought non-alcoholic mouthwash can help dislodge stones too. Be sure to follow the directions and, as with the salt water, don’t swallow the mouthwash.
Mouthwash can help improve your overall oral or dental hygiene, because it can remove food particles that may have been missed by brushing and flossing your teeth. Many mouthwashes also contain fluoride, which helps maintain healthy teeth and gums.
3Gently remove the stones.
If rinsing your mouth with salt water or mouthwash isn’t helping dislodge the tonsil stones, you may want to try removing them yourself. Using the soft end of a cotton swab, gently reach back to the tonsil and try to remove the stone. Some people try using their toothbrush, but a smaller cotton swab may be gentler if you have a strong gag reflex.
Be sure you aren’t near a door that can open suddenly or there isn’t someone nearby who can bang into you as you try to move the stone.
4Cough them loose.
If the tonsil stones aren’t lodged too deeply in the tonsil tissue, coughing may loosen them enough to express them. Some people do this unknowingly. They have a bad coughing session and then feel something hard on the back of their tongue. Try clearing your throat and coughing to see if that makes any difference.
Don’t force too hard a cough though, as this can irritate your throat further.
5Use a water irrigator.
A water or oral irrigator could help dislodge tonsil stones and help keep them from returning. There are various types of water irrigators on the market to cover different budgets.
Aim a gentle water spray towards the back of your throat. The action may also make you cough, which could help dislodge the stone. An irrigator isn’t a replacement for brushing or flossing, but it can help remove extra food particles from between your teeth and around your mouth, lessening the chances of any getting caught in your tonsils.
6Eat carrots or apples.
While not a proven medical treatment, some people with tonsil stones swear by eating carrots or apples. The acid in the apples is thought to help fight the bacteria in the tonsils, keeping them from forming stones. Carrots, on the other hand, increase saliva production. As saliva bathes your mouth and throat, it can help loosen stones and fight the bacteria as well.
7When to See a Doctor
Although tonsil stones don’t cause serious complications, they can cause bad breath and throat irritation that can affect your daily activities. So, if you were unable to remove the tonsil stones at home, speak with your primary care doctor, who may refer you to an ear, nose and throat specialist. If you have frequent bouts of tonsillitis, the doctor may recommend a tonsillectomy—removal of the tonsils.