White Spots on Gums

Medically reviewed by Alana Biggers, MD on October 19, 2017Written by Ana Gotter on October 19, 2017

Overview

White spots on your gums may form in patches, small spots, or lace-like webs. They may become thick or hard, and they may be uncomfortable or painful depending on the cause.

White spots on the gums can range from a mild health issue that can heal on its own, to a more serious indicator of an underlying condition. Oral health is an important indicator of overall health.

Causes

There are a number of different causes that can lead to white spots on the gums.

Canker sores

Canker sores are one of the most common causes of white spots on the gums. While they typically start as red bumps, they often have a white or yellow spot at the center surrounded by a red border. Canker sores are accompanied by a stinging pain, which may become aggravated when you’re eating or drinking, especially when eating something acidic.

Oral thrush

Oral thrush is another common cause, in which the Candida fungus accumulates in areas of the mouth. It can cause creamy white or yellow lesions on the gums, tongue, roof of mouth, and inner cheeks. These lesions may be slightly raised, and can cause soreness or minor bleeding.

Oral lichen planus

Oral lichen planus is thought to be a chronic inflammatory condition that can show up in white, lace-like patches on the gums and other mucous membranes inside the mouth. While the white, lacey patches may not cause discomfort, they may develop into red, raised patches or open sores. They may cause discomfort or other symptoms.

Leukoplakia

Leukoplakia are small white patches that appear on the gums, the insides of the cheeks, the bottom of the mouth, and the tongue. They may thicken or harden overtime, and they can’t be scraped off. Many cases of leukoplakia are benign, but some may be precancerous. Speckled leukoplakia, where white patches are speckled with redder areas, may be particularly prone to being precancerous.

Symptoms

There are a number of symptoms that may accompany white spots on the gums, depending on the cause.

Canker sores can be small, and are often yellow or white with a small red border. Additional symptoms of canker sores include a painful burning or stinging sensation, which may start before the sore actually appears. They typically occur alone, though they can occur in clusters.

The lesions from oral thrush may have a cottage cheese appearance, and are often slightly raised. Other symptoms you may experience include:

  • cracking or bleeding at the corners of the mouth
  • slight bleeding if the area is rubbed or irritated
  • loss of taste
  • having a cottony feeling in your mouth
  • pain under dentures
  • redness, soreness, or a burning in severe cases

Oral lichen planus often develops into white, lacey raised patches, though it can also develop into red, raised patches or open sores. Other symptoms may include:

  • burning sensations
  • sensitivity to hot or acidic foods
  • bleeding, discomfort, or irritation when eating, talking, or brushing teeth
  • inflammation of the gums
  • painful, thickened patches on the tongue

Leukoplakia causes white or grayish patches in the mouth that can thicken or harden. It typically isn’t painful, and its general lack of symptoms often cause it to go undetected. Sometimes, severe cases may cause:

  • discomfort
  • ear pain when swallowing
  • a progressing reduction in the ability to fully open your mouth

If you experience any of these symptoms and notice white spots on your gums, see your dentist immediately.

If you’re experiencing white spots on the gums along with new symptoms like pain, a cottony feeling in the mouth, and bleeding that doesn’t resolve within one week, make an appointment to see your dentist.

Treatment

Treatment will depend heavily on what’s causing the white spots on your gums.

Canker sores

Minor canker sores should resolve on their own within one week. Major canker sores may need treatment, which could include:

  • mouth rinses
  • topical products
  • oral medications to reduce pain and inflammation

In some cases, products containing lidocaine will be applied to the area. You can rinse your mouth with saltwater at home and avoid spicy or acidic foods to speed up treatment. There are a dozen more ways to get rid of canker sores, too.

In severe cases, your dentist may use oral steroid medications or use topical solutions to cauterize and seal the canker sores.

Oral thrush

Oral thrush will often be treated by an antifungal medication. This may include:

  • tablets
  • mouth rinses you swallow
  • lozenges

If this doesn’t work, or you’re experiencing candida problems on other areas of the body, your doctor may give you an oral antifungal. You can use warm saltwater mouth rinses to speed up treatment.

Oral lichen planus

Oral lichen planus treatment may involve corticosteroids to reduce inflammation. These can be topical, oral, or injectable. Your doctor may prescribe topical numbing agents to reduce any pain if you’re experiencing it. They may also prescribe medications designed to suppress or control the immune system — these may include topical gels that are calcineurin inhibitors, or system medications that treat the whole body.

Leukoplakia

Leukoplakia may need to be tested to ensure that it isn’t precancerous. Your dentist will take a biopsy to test it, and then remove it if necessary. Your doctor may remove the leukoplakia with a scalpel, a laser, or a cyroprobe that freezes and destroys cells. You’ll be numbed before the removal.

If you smoke or use tobacco products, stop immediately — this may be what caused the leukoplakia to begin with. If a weakened immune system is causing your leukoplakia, your doctor may prescribe you antiviral medications. In some cases, topical treatments may also be used.

Prevention

Maintaining good oral hygiene is one of the best things you can do to prevent white spots on the gums, and their assortment of causes. This includes:

  • Seeing your dentist regularly for cleanings and screenings.
  • Brushing after meals and flossing at least once a day.
  • Using a soft toothbrush and brushing gently.
  • Cleaning your tongue (tongue scrapers can become your best friend).
  • Using mouth rinses twice a day.
  • Avoiding toothpastes and mouthwashes that contain sodium lauryl sulfate.
  • Reducing stress, which can aggravate the immune system.
  • Eating a healthy, well-balanced diet that’s limited in sugar.
  • Treating other health conditions as soon as they occur.
  • Not smoking or using any type of tobacco products.

Outlook

Paying attention to your oral health is important. It can help you spot early signs of disease, and even help to prevent certain conditions. If you notice white spots on your gums for the first time, make an appointment to see your dentist. They’ll be able to let you know if testing is needed and recommend treatment options.

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