Q&A: Tonsil Stones

Question: Are tonsil stones painful?

Answer: No, tonsil stones themselves are not usually painful.  The “stones” are actually accumulations of debris within the crevasses of the tonsils.  Usually this debris is dried saliva, food particles, and bacterial bi-products.  The tonsils can have deep in-folds that allow trapping of the debris and formation of these little pearls.
Now to be sure, any underlying infection that may contribute to secretions by the tonsils, or overgrowth of the tonsils can certainly cause pain.  In acute tonsillitis the tonsils are usually very red, swollen large, and are very very painful (sometimes enough to cause dehydration by making swallowing so painful).  Patients with chronic tonsillitis know however that long term lingering infections can feel like a persistent dull ache or persistent sharp pains when swallowing.  Chronic tonsillitis will flare up from time to time into an “acute-on-chronic” infection.
Just simple tonsil stones though, are not usually painful, and are commonly seen in people that don’t have any throat complaints.
Thanks for the question!