Most people pay little attention to their tonsils, but these lymph nodes sometimes trap stones that can trigger several uncomfortable symptoms. Tonsil stones, medically known as "tonsilloliths," are the result of food, bacteria, and other debris that get stuck in the tonsils (per Cleveland Clinic). Together, these materials clump and calcify, forming white bumps in the throat. Even if you don’t see tonsil stones, you may notice bad breath, a cough, and throat irritation. You may also suffer from oral infections associated with the stones.
Prevention is one of the best ways to get rid of tonsil stones without special treatment. According to Healthline, it’s important to practice good oral hygiene habits to limit bacteria and debris buildup in the mouth. This includes brushing teeth after meals, keeping the tongue clean, and flossing every day. Oral health brand Colgate also suggests avoiding tobacco products and drinking plenty of water to prevent tonsil stones from forming.
Preventative measures aren’t always enough to stop tonsilloliths, however. Next time you notice a stone stuck in your throat, try these easy home remedies.
When you feel like you have something stuck in your throat, you may have to cough to relieve the irritation. Similarly, if you have a stone lodged in your tonsil, needing to cough may be one of the first symptoms you notice (per Healthdirect Australia). Coughing to get rid of the tickle in your throat may expel pesky tonsil stones, sometimes even by accident.
Healthline explains that a strong cough can force out tonsilloliths, especially if they’re not deeply embedded in the tonsils. Try coughing forcefully a few times and notice if throat irritation goes away or if the stone falls out.
Keep in mind, however, that coughing may not be enough to dislodge large or deep tonsil stones. Also, don’t cough so hard that you experience pain or other symptoms. According to Mayo Clinic, violent coughing can cause lung irritation, dizziness, fainting, headaches, and vomiting. If a few coughs don’t do the trick, move on to another method of removing tonsil stones.
Using a cotton swab
If tonsil stones are visible and easy to reach in the throat, one simple fix is to manually remove them with an object. Your best bet is to use a cotton swab, as Dr. Jennifer Setlur, an otolaryngologist, told Everyday Health. Sharp or hard objects may injure the tonsils, causing them to bleed, so stick to using a soft cotton swab instead.
Medical News Today suggests first wetting the cotton swab. Use a flashlight and mirror to locate stones in the throat. Then, using gentle strokes, brush the stones out of the tonsil crevices. Avoid persistently poking or pushing on the tonsils. If the tonsilloliths don’t budge or if you notice bleeding, stop.
If you’re successful at removing tonsil stones with a cotton swab, keep in mind that some debris may be left behind. To prevent another stone from forming and to wash away any stones left behind, Ideal Dental recommends finishing by thoroughly rinsing the mouth with water or mouthwash.
When tonsil stones are hard to reach, gargling can be one of the most effective ways to remove them. For an easy, homemade solution, try salt water, as Cleveland Clinic recommends. Gargling salt water may soothe throat irritation while dislodging stubborn stones. Additionally, salt is known to kill and expel bacteria, such as the bacteria found in tonsilloliths (per GoodRx Health).
Another DIY option is a mixture of apple cider vinegar (or any other vinegar you have on hand) and water. According to the experts at Healthline, the acid in vinegar works to destroy tonsil stones. A 2018 study published in Scientific Reports also confirmed apple cider vinegar’s antimicrobial properties. While more research may be needed, it’s likely that the liquid could kill the bacteria lurking inside tonsil stones.
Commercial mouthwashes may also help dislodge tonsil stones. However, special products may not be necessary. Dr. Aaron Thatcher, a clinical assistant professor with the department of otolaryngology at the University of Michigan Medicine, and otolaryngologist Dr. Jennifer Setlur told Everyday Health that gargling plain water may be just as effective at getting rid of tonsil stones as other mouthwash solutions.
Spraying with a water flosser
When a cotton swab fails, another way to manually remove tonsil stones is by using a water flosser. A water flosser, also called a "water pick" or "oral irrigator," sprays water to remove debris from the mouth. While these devices may not be as cheap as a simple cotton swab, they can be just as or even more effective at getting rid of tonsil stones.
Medical News Today explains that water flossers not only spray away existing stones but can also prevent stones from developing. Using a mirror and flashlight, find the stones lodged in your tonsils. Then, point the irrigator device at the stones, spraying water to rinse them away. Then, spit out the water and stones or other debris.
Aiming an irrigator at the throat may be uncomfortable and can cause coughing or even choking. Be careful when trying this method, and don’t use it on children. Additionally, water flossers can sometimes damage tonsils, says Patient. Follow instructions carefully, and use low-pressure settings when available. If the water flosser is too powerful, it may injure the throat and cause the tonsils to bleed.
Eating bacteria-fighting foods
Though food can contribute to the formation of tonsil stones, certain foods may also help fight them. The experts at Healthline share several healthy foods that can either prevent or help dislodge tonsilloliths. Apples, they explain, may counteract bacteria in tonsil stones due to their natural acids. Similarly, munching on carrots and onions promotes antibacterial properties in the mouth, making it more difficult for tonsil stones to thrive.
Another food to add to your diet is garlic, says eMedicineHealth. Garlic is naturally antibacterial, thanks to its active compound allicin. Eating raw garlic may kill some of the bacteria in the throat that make up tonsil stones.
Finally, give probiotic-rich foods a try. Foods containing probiotics may disrupt harmful bacteria in the mouth, potentially reducing and dissolving tonsil stones. Food sources of probiotics include yogurt, pickles, kefir, and fermented foods (per WebMD).
Bacteria-fighting foods may not be a quick fix for tonsil stones, however. Regularly incorporate them into your diet to help keep tonsilloliths at bay.