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What do tonsil stones smell like?

Tonsil stones, also known as tonsilloliths or tonsil calculi, are small clusters of calcified material that form in the crevices of the tonsils. They occur as a result of recurrent tonsillitis and repeated infection and inflammation of the tonsils. Tonsil stones are common, with research indicating they affect close to 11% of the population at any given time.

One of the most noticeable symptoms of tonsil stones is a bad breath or halitosis. This is primarily due to the foul smell that emanates from the calcified masses lodged in the tonsils. So what exactly causes tonsil stones to smell so offensively?

Causes of the Bad Smell

There are a few key reasons why tonsil stones tend to have such a putrid odor:

  • Trapped debris – Tonsil stones form as a result of debris and bacteria becoming trapped in small crevices and folds of the tonsils. This debris includes food particles, mucus, dead cells, and other substances. As these materials decay and break down, they release foul-smelling gases.
  • Sulfur compounds – Part of the odor comes from sulfur compounds, particularly hydrogen sulfide and methyl mercaptan, that are produced when the trapped debris decomposes. These sulfur-containing molecules have a rotten egg smell.
  • Bacteria and fungi – There are certain microbes, including bacteria like Fusobacterium nucleatum and Porphyromonas gingivalis, that inhabit tonsil stones and contribute to their odor. Anaerobic bacteria thrive in the oxygen-deprived core of the stones. When they feed on organic matter, they produce rancid smells.
  • Volatile organic compounds – As the anaerobic bacteria metabolize and ferment the trapped substances, they release volatile organic compounds or VOCs. These vaporous chemical molecules include indole, skatole, putrescine, and cadaverine, which all have powerful and unpleasant odors.

How Would You Describe the Smell?

The foul stench of tonsil stones has been likened to a number of unpleasant odors:

  • Rotten eggs – Due to the sulfur compounds released, tonsil stones often smell like rotten or decomposing eggs.
  • Feces or poop – The scent is reminiscent of stools or human waste due to the bacteria and VOCs emitted.
  • Stinky feet – Some describe the smell as being like sweaty, unwashed feet or shoes.
  • Rotten meat – The odor bears similarities to the smell of meat, fish, or protein that has spoiled.
  • Pus – Since tonsil stones form around recurring infections, their smell can be likened to that of infected wounds or pus.
  • Body odor – The overall stench is often depicted as an especially strong and repulsive body odor.
  • Morning breath – The smell is very similar to particularly bad cases of morning breath or halitosis.

So in summary, the smell given off by tonsil stones tends to be a revolting combination of rotten eggs, feces, stinky feet, spoiled meat, pus, body odor, and the worst morning breath you can imagine. It’s a multidimensional stench that most people find extremely disgusting and off-putting.

When Are They Most Smelly?

You may notice tonsil stones being smelliest under certain conditions or scenarios:

  • First thing in the morning – Stones tend to release the most potent smells when you wake up and breathe out in the morning.
  • During illness – Symptoms like bad breath often get worse when you have an infection like strep throat that causes inflammation.
  • When disturbed – Coughing, poking around your tonsils, or physically dislodging the stones will make them emit strong odors.
  • Certain foods – Onions, garlic, spicy foods, and dairy can make tonsil stone breath worse.
  • Dehydration – A lack of saliva and dry mouth will make the smell more noticeable.
  • Stress – High cortisol levels can increase tonsil stone breath.

Being attentive to when tonsil smell is at its peak can help you better manage it.

Does the Smell Go Away?

In most cases, the foul smell associated with tonsil stones will eventually dissipate once the stones are removed or dislodged from their pocket in the tonsils. However, the smell may return if more stones form, which they have a tendency to do. Here are some key points:

  • Goes away after removal – Dislodging individual stones will get rid of the smell until more form.
  • Returns over time – The stench will likely recur as the crypts fill back up with debris and decaying matter.
  • Chronic tonsil stones lead to chronic halitosis – Someone with recurrent tonsilloliths will experience long-term issues with bad breath.
  • Tonsillectomy provides longer relief – Removing the tonsils surgically eliminates the pits where stones form.
  • Improved oral hygiene prevents return – Better brushing, flossing, and gargling can impede new stone development.

Treatment Options

There are a few treatment approaches available for handling smelly tonsil stones:

  • Remove stones – You can dislodge them by poking gently with a cotton swab or irrigating the tonsils.
  • Gargle antiseptic mouthwash – This can help kill bacteria and freshen breath for a while.
  • Use a nasal irrigation device – Washing away debris in the throat and back of the sinuses may help.
  • Try an oral probiotic – This introduces beneficial bacteria to compete with the stinky microbes.
  • Improve oral hygiene – Brush and floss thoroughly after meals. Scrap your tongue.
  • Stay hydrated – Drink lots of water to keep mucus diluted and saliva flowing.
  • Consider tonsillectomy – Removing the tonsils is an option if stones are severe and recurrent.

Discuss any bothersome tonsil stone symptoms with your doctor or dentist to explore suitable treatments.

When to Seek Medical Care

You should make an appointment with your healthcare provider if:

  • You have persistent bad breath caused by tonsil stones.
  • The stones are so large they cause discomfort or trouble swallowing.
  • You frequently have recurring tonsillitis in addition to tonsil stones.
  • The tonsil crypts are very inflamed or filled with pus.
  • Tonsil stone odor seems to worsen or comes back quickly after removing them.
  • Home treatments and better oral hygiene don’t provide much relief.

A doctor can rule out any underlying illness, provide guidance on tonsil stone removal, and discuss if surgical removal of the tonsils is warranted.

Prevention Tips

You can help prevent foul-smelling tonsil stones by:

  • Brushing and flossing thoroughly after eating.
  • Using an antiseptic mouthwash daily.
  • Quitting smoking, as it dries out the mouth and tonsils.
  • Drinking plenty of water to stay hydrated.
  • Gargling with salt water to clear debris.
  • Avoiding dairy if you notice it worsens tonsil breath.
  • Getting treated promptly for any tonsillitis infections.

When to See an ENT Doctor

It’s advisable to see an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) physician if:

  • Your halitosis is chronic and unrelenting.
  • Tonsil stones are causing repeated bouts of tonsillitis.
  • Stones are large and causing discomfort or trouble swallowing.
  • You have large, inflamed tonsils littered with pits and white debris.
  • At-home remedies provide little or no relief.
  • Bad breath is impacting your life quality and self-esteem.

An ENT specialist can evaluate your tonsils, determine if tonsillectomy is appropriate, and improve your symptoms.


In summary, tonsil stones can make your breath smell similar to rotten eggs, stools, stinky feet, and putrid body odor. This foul smell is caused by trapped debris, sulfur compounds, and bacteria in the tonsil crypts. Stones tend to smell worst in the morning, during illness, and after eating certain foods. The stench usually goes away after the calcified globs are dislodged or removed. But the odor will likely return over time as more stones form in the pitted tonsil tissue. Seeking medical advice is recommended if smelly tonsil stones are persistent, large, or interfering with your quality of life. With a combination of at-home care, oral hygiene, and possible surgery, you can get relief and regain confidence in your breath.