The next time you brush your teeth, take a closer look at the inside of your cheek. Do you notice a thin white line running along the pink tissue there?
This a condition known as linea alba. It’s typically harmless and doesn’t require treatment.
But it may be worth getting checked out. There are other more serious conditions that can look like it, and they do need treatment.
Typically, linea alba shows up as a horizontal white line that runs along the inside of your cheek across from your occlusal plane. The occlusal plane is the area where your top teeth meet your bottom teeth, from your incisors to your molars.
You might not even realize you’ve developed linea alba unless you make a special effort to look for it or unless a dentist notices it during an examination.
Linea alba is evidence of irritation inside your mouth. Typically, it’s caused by chronic friction between your teeth and the lining of your cheek, also known as your buccal mucosa.
It can also be caused by other sources of friction in the mouth, such as:
- dentures that rub against each other
- uneven teeth that grind or slide past each other
- orthodontic appliances
- overly enthusiastic brushing and flossing
A doctor or dentist will want to get a good look at the inside of your mouth. Unless there’s concern that it’s a condition other than linea alba, no specific treatment is necessary.
A doctor will probably explain what’s causing the white line and ask you about any habits that you have that could be causing it. If you tend to gnaw on the inside of your cheek, the doctor may advise you to break that habit.
However, if you have dentures or wear a retainer, you may need to get those adjusted to fit better. This should hopefully reduce the friction they’re causing in your cheek’s lining.
Linea alba isn’t the only thing that can cause white lines or white patches to show up inside your mouth. In fact, it’s easy to get linea alba confused with a number of other conditions.
Linea alba doesn’t cause these conditions, but these conditions can cause similar markings in your mouth. These include:
- a canker sore, which is a small white or yellow ulcer in your mouth
- debris in your mouth, which can be scraped or brushed away
- a human papilloma virus (HPV) lesion
- oral lichen planus, which is an oral skin rash linked to an immune response
- oral thrush, which is a yeast infection inside the mouth
- leukoplakia, which can be an early sign of oral cancer
Leukoplakia patches can develop inside your cheeks, along your gums, on your tongue or palate, and the bottom of your mouth. Mild cases tend to go away on their own.
While most cases don’t lead to cancer, some of the tissue changes associated with leukoplakia can eventually develop into cancer.
Other symptoms of oral cancer can include:
- pain that increases when you eat or drink
- difficulty chewing
- ear pain
- trouble moving your jaw or tongue
- numbness of the tongue
- a red patch or patches that bleed easily
People who use chewing tobacco or snuff are at a higher risk for developing oral cancers. Men are also at a higher risk for these cancers than women.
Linea alba by itself doesn’t require any special treatment. If you know that you’re grinding your teeth or your dentures don’t fit quite right, you can get that addressed and see if it makes a difference.
But if you start to develop other symptoms, including pain or numbness in your jaw, bleeding, or sores that don’t go away, let a doctor know. You may need to undergo some further examination or testing to get the right diagnosis.
If you’re a tobacco user and you notice an unusual lesion in your cheek or inside your lip, see a doctor. They may order the following tests:
If you notice symptoms, don’t ignore them. It’s important to get the right diagnosis in case you do need treatment.
All by itself, a white line across your inner cheek that doesn’t hurt, itch, or cause you any other type of discomfort is probably nothing to worry about.
But it might be worth asking a doctor or dentist to take a closer look, especially if you’ve noticed any changes to the white area or developed any new symptoms.