Tech & Science dictionary

tonsil stones

[ton-suh l stohnz]

What does tonsil stones mean?

Tonsil stones are small yellow or white lumps embedded in the tonsils. They result from bacterial or fungal build-up that forms into a nasty-smelling—but generally—harmless mass.

Related words:

  • tonsilloliths
  • tonsil pimples

Where does tonsil stones come from?

tonsil stones

Tonsil stones are one of several ways in which solid material can build up in the body to form hard masses in soft tissue—the most well-known of these being kidney stones. In the case of tonsil stones, the culprit can be food or strep throat.

The use of the word stone to describe these masses relates to the Latin scientific term, calculus (which means “pebble” or “little stone” and also a source of much pain in high school). Tonsil stones are formally called tonsilloliths, literally “tonsil stones.”

The particular term tonsil stone itself appears in medical literature in the late 19th century, although the phenomenon had be discussed under other names in medical journals as far back 1800 and certainly experienced millennia before.

In addition to mild discomfort, tonsil stones are known to produce a foul smell that cause bad breath and a funky taste in the mouth. Today, tonsil stones may be removed by a doctor or dislodged with the gargling of specialized tonics.

Examples of tonsil stones

In the shower this morning, I coughed up two of those mothball-smelling tonsil stone things and I would enjoy death.
@sethleupagus, April, 2018
The removal of tonsil stones — tiny, pebble-like growths that can be popped out of the tonsils — is no exception. It's a little bit like pimple popping, just inside a throat.
Caroline Praderio, Insider, August, 2017
I took the flashlight on my phone and looked in the mirror and saw it...So Thursday night I felt one, and I posted it on my moms Facebook group and within 10 minutes, I had hundreds of comments of tonsil stones and how to get them out and what they were.
Kylee Angell quoted by Rae Daniel, KSHB, January, 2018

Who uses tonsil stones?

Tonsil stones is mostly used in formal contexts by patients and doctors, particularly Ear-Nose-Throat physicians and specialist dentists. Some people also like to watch videos of tonsil stones being, um, “popped” on YouTube. Because the internet.

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This is not meant to be a formal definition of tonsil stones like most terms we define on, but is rather an informal word summary that hopefully touches upon the key aspects of the meaning and usage of tonsil stones that will help our users expand their word mastery.