Healthy gums are normally pink in color. Sometimes they can be red from poor oral hygiene. White gums, on the other hand, can be a symptom of an underlying health problem.
A variety of conditions can lead to white gums, some potentially serious. So if you have white gums, you should see your doctor to pinpoint the underlying cause.
Read on to learn more about which conditions cause white gums and how they’re treated.
White gums caused by leukoplakia
What causes white gums?
Your white gums may be due to one of these conditions:
Gingivitis is a bacterial infection of the gums. It’s most often caused by poor brushing and flossing habits. As a result, your gums could turn white and recede. Other symptoms of gingivitis include:
- loose teeth
- gums that bleed when you brush or floss
- inflamed or red gums
Canker sores are painful ulcers that develop inside of your mouth. They can occur inside your cheeks, underneath your tongue, or at the bottom of your gums. They’re painful to the touch and can become a source of pain when you eat and drink.
These types of sores have yellow or white centers. If they develop at the bottom of your gums, they can make your gums appear white. However, you can tell canker sores aren’t causing your white gums if the white color covers your entire gum line.
Anemia is a medical condition that results in a low number of red blood cells. These types of blood cells are essential for moving oxygen throughout the tissues and organs of your body.
The causes of anemia vary. It may be due to a lack of iron or vitamin B-12 in your diet. It also sometimes results from other medical conditions, such as inflammatory diseases like Crohn’s.
Extreme fatigue is one of the first signs of anemia. Other immediate symptoms include:
- feeling out of breath
- cold extremities
- irregular heartbeat
- chest pain
- paleness in the skin
Pale skin results from a lack of oxygen from anemia. This can also affect your gums. With anemia, you won’t only have white gums — you’ll notice overall paleness of your skin in general.
Oral candidiasis (thrush) is a type of yeast infection that develops inside your mouth. It’s caused by the same fungus responsible for vaginal yeast infections called Candida albicans.
Oral candidiasis can spread from the lining of your mouth to your gums and tongue. The fungal infection may look white or red, or even both at the same time. If the fungus spreads to your gums, they might look white in color.
Leukoplakia is another condition that can cause portions of your gums to appear white. It consists of thick, white patches that can cover your gums, tongue, and the insides of your cheeks. Sometimes the patches are so thick that they have a hairy appearance.
This condition most often results from lifestyle habits that consistently lead to irritation inside your mouth. Examples include smoking and chewing tobacco.
In some cases, white gums can indicate a more serious condition, such as oral cancer, also called oral cavity cancer. This cancer may spread quickly and could affect your gums, tongue, and the roof of your mouth.
You may notice small, flat, and thin bumps around these areas. They may be white, red, or flesh-colored. The danger here is that oral cancer may not be symptomatic, which can result in a delayed diagnosis.
If you have a tooth extracted by a dentist, you may notice that your gums near the tooth turn white. This is because of the trauma of the procedure. Your gums should return to their normal color a few days after the procedure.
Sometimes, after an in-office teeth-whiting procedure, your gums may turn white. This is a temporary side effect of the chemicals used. Your gums should return to their normal color within several hours of the procedure.
How are white gums treated?
Just as the causes of white gums vary, treatment measures depend on the conditions that lead to gum color changes in the first place.
Practicing good brushing and flossing habits and seeing your dentist twice a year can help treat gingivitis. Your dentist may also recommend scaling, root planning, or laser cleaning for more advanced cases.
Treating canker sores
Canker sores are among the most manageable causes of white gums. According to the Mayo Clinic, canker sores tend to heal without treatment within one to two weeks.
A canker sore that worsens or doesn’t go away within 14 days could mean that the ulcer is something more serious. If you have numerous canker sores at once, your doctor may recommend a prescription mouth rinse or topical ointment. You may be directed to take oral corticosteroids if other treatment measures fail.
Treatment for anemia includes dietary changes that may help you get the iron and vitamin B-12 your red blood cells need. You may also consider a vitamin C supplement, as this nutrient helps your body absorb iron more efficiently.
Anemia caused by inflammatory diseases can only be resolved by managing these diseases. You’ll need to see your doctor to go over your treatment plan.
Treating oral candidiasis
Oral candidiasis can usually be treated with a prescription antifungal medication.
To diagnose leukoplakia, your doctor may take a biopsy from one of the patches on your gums. Treatment usually involves correcting the lifestyle habits that contribute to the patches in the first place. For example, if you smoke, you should stop.
Once you have leukoplakia, there’s a good chance that the condition will come back. Check your gums, and let your dentist know about any changes you notice.
Treating oral cancer
More than half of oral cancer cases aren’t detected until the cancer has already spread throughout the mouth and to the lymph nodes. Treatment largely depends on the stage of cancer you have, and may include chemotherapy and surgically removing parts of your mouth or lymph nodes affected by the cancer.
What is the outlook for white gums?
The outlook for white gums largely depends on the underlying cause. A short-term condition such as a canker sore may ultimately end up being just a temporary nuisance.
More chronic illnesses, such as inflammatory diseases, will require long-term treatment to control white gums and other symptoms. Oral cancer is the most serious cause of white gums. It needs immediate treatment to prevent the spread of malignant cells to other parts of your body.
You should see your doctor or dentist if you notice any unusual changes in your mouth or white gums that don’t resolve after one to two weeks.