The health of your mouth is an important indicator of your general health, so having white spots on your gums means that something is probably wrong.
There are many different causes of these white spots ranging from mild issues that can heal on its own to a more serious underlying condition. In rare cases, white gums can indicate oral cancer, so it is essential to see your dentist for a proper diagnosis.
These white spots may be accompanied by other symptoms such as pain or discomfort. Read on to learn more about white spots on gums, the causes, and treatments.
What Causes White Spots On Gums?
Some of the causes of white spots on gums are:
1. Canker Sores
These are also known as mouth ulcers. They develop on the soft tissues of the mouth and around the gums. The ulcers are coin-shaped, the edges are red with a white or yellowish center.
The cause of canker sores is not clear, but they may be triggered by injury or irritation of soft tissues of the mouth, vitamin deficiencies, stress, or autoimmune disorders.
2. Trauma and Friction
Trauma and friction from poorly fitting dentures, sharp edges of fillings can cause white spots on the gums. This is called frictional keratosis.
3. Oral Thrush
This is another cause of white spots on gums. It is a fungal infection that is caused by an overgrowth of the Candida albicans in the mouth. Candida is part of the normal flora of the mouth but it can accumulate more in babies, older adults, or people with suppressed immunity.
People with uncontrolled diabetes, HIV or who are taking certain antibiotics are also more likely to get the infection. It shows up as creamy white or yellow lesions on the gums, tongue, the roof of the mouth, and inner cheeks (“milk curd”) which can be scraped off easily by your toothbrush.
4. Chemical Irritation
Irritation from harsh chemicals, aspirin burn and also some dental hygiene products like toothpaste and mouthwash can also present as white spots on gums. Smoking also causes white patches on the gums and roof of the mouth (smoker’s keratosis).
Leukoplakia is a condition that causes part of the gums and other parts of the mouth to turn white. These white patches are thick and cannot be scraped off with a toothbrush. The cause is not known but smoking and use of other tobacco products have been shown to play a big role in its formation.
Ill-fitting dentures, long-term alcohol use and suppression of the immune system are the other causes of this condition. Most cases of leukoplakia are benign, but some can be precancerous i.e. can cause cancer over time. According to the American Cancer Society, it is only the red areas that are more likely to be cancerous or precancerous.
6. Oral Lichen Planus
This is an autoimmune condition that involves inflammation of the soft tissues in the mouth. It causes white, lacy patches on the gums and inner cheek. These white patches may not cause discomfort but they may develop into red, raised patches or open sores.
Apart from the obvious white spots on the gum, there may be other associated symptoms
• Pain which interferes with eating and drinking.
• Bleeding gums when brushing or eating
• Tingling or burning sensation before white spots are seen
• Redness of the gums
• Loss of taste
• Gum swelling
• Cracking or bleeding at the corners of the mouth
How Can White Spots On The Gums Be Treated?
Before a treatment plan is recommended by your dentist, a diagnosis has to be made and this is done by:
• Proper medical history
• Visual examination of the white spots
• Blood tests
• Biopsy: Your dentist may take a small sample from the gum tissue and view under the microscope in the laboratory. This is done to enable proper diagnosis in cases of lichen planus or leukoplakia to check for cancer cells.
Treatment of white spots on gums depends on the cause.
• Minor cases of canker sores typically clear within 1 to 2 weeks without any treatment. Major sores often require treatments like analgesic ointments and gels, pain-relieving medication, warm salt water rinses. Oral steroids like prednisolone can be used to treat severe cases.
• Smokers and people using other tobacco products will be advised to stop as these contribute to the development of leukoplakia. The white patches may be removed with a scalpel, laser, or frozen off. Other causes like ill-fitting dentures or faulty fillings need to be adjusted by the dentist.
• There is no cure for oral lichen planus as it is an autoimmune disease. The aim of treatment is to manage the symptoms and improve quality of life. These include the use of corticosteroids for inflammation and analgesic gels to reduce pain.
• Antifungal medication is prescribed for oral thrush and it is available as a tablet, lozenge, or rinse. Also, the other causes like uncontrolled diabetes and HIV need to be properly reviewed by a physician.
• White spots due to chemical irritation from aspirin burns and other harsh chemicals would resolve in a week or two. Warm water and salt rinse, analgesic gels and vitamin c supplements can also help to reduce pain and facilitate healing.
Preventing White Spots On Gums
The best way of preventing white spots on gums is to maintain good oral hygiene by brushing twice daily with a medium or soft textured toothbrush and fluoride-containing toothpaste, flossing and using a mouthwash that contains fluoride.
Other preventive methods are:
- Visiting your dentist for regular check-ups and professional cleaning(scaling and polishing)
- Eating a well-balanced diet and limiting the intake of sugar and alcohol.
- Avoid smoking and use of other tobacco-containing products.
- Addressing underlying health conditions like HIV and diabetes promptly.
Early detection of white spots on gums can help prevent the condition from becoming something more serious. If you notice white spots or any other mouth sores that do not disappear within 2 weeks, it is important that you make an appointment with your doctor/dentist urgently.