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What Are Those White Spots on Your Gums?

Dental Exams for White Spots on Gums
Consult with Your Dentist About White Spots

White spots on the gums are often the result of irritation to the delicate tissues inside your mouth, especially irritation resulting from rough or ill-fitting dentures, partials and other dental appliances. Sometimes white spots on the gums are a sign of gum cancer.

Your dentist can help you determine the cause of the white spots on your gums and take a biopsy when necessary to rule out cancer of the gums. Your dentist can suggest a course of treatment and monitor the healing process to ensure the white spots on your gums fade as quickly as possible.

Dentists use the medical term “leukoplakia” to describe white spots on gums. Leukoplakia affects the mucous membranes lining the inside of your mouth. During leukoplakia, thick white patches develop on your gums. These white spots may also develop on the inside of your cheeks, on the bottom of your mouth and, sometimes, on your tongue. You cannot scrape leukoplakia white spots off your gums or other areas of your mouth.

Leukoplakia patches are often white in color but may be gray in some areas. These spots usually have an uneven shape and have a slightly raised, firm surface. Contact with spicy or acidic foods may cause pain. Sometimes the white spots have a fuzzy appearance, a condition doctors call “hairy leukoplakia.”

Treatment of White Spots on Gums

Dentists do not yet know what causes leukoplakia but they think the condition may be the result of irritation. Rough teeth, dentures or dental work may cause oral irritation in some people, as can tobacco use – especially pipe smoking – and alcohol use. Research shows that leukoplakia is most common among elderly people.

White spots on the gums are usually harmless and go away after a few days or weeks. Avoid alcohol and stop all tobacco use, including cigarettes, cigars, pipes, and chewing tobacco if you use these products.

Consult with a dentist if you think dental work is irritating your gums or mouth, or if the white spots on your gums are especially painful or prevent you from eating, talking, or wearing your dental appliances. Always consult with a dentist if you are concerned that the white spots on your gums are a sign of something more serious. A healthcare professional will examine the white spots and may even take a biopsy, or small sample of the diseased tissue, to send to the medical laboratory for further examination.

White Spots on Gums May Be a Sign of Cancer

National dental organizations warn that white patches on your gums can also be a sign of gum cancer. These experts recommend you return to your healthcare professional for re-evaluation and who will consider performing a biopsy if the white spots on your gums do not heal within two weeks.


Sources:

National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, “Detecting Oral Cancer: A Guide for Health Care Professionals.” July 2013.

Vyas, Jatin M. MD, PhD, “Leukoplakia.” U.S. Library of Medicine. Sept 2013.

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