White spots on gums: 6 causes and how to treat them – Insider
Brushing and flossing can seem like a chore at times, but it pays to take care of your mouth. Oral health is an essential part of overall health and good oral hygiene can reduce your risk of certain diseases, like endocarditis and cardiovascular disease.
Your oral health can also provide clues about your overall health and in some cases may be the first sign of an underlying medical condition. White spots on your gums, for example, can mean you’re experiencing an overgrowth of yeast or a bacterial infection that requires antibiotics.
Here are six reasons why you may have white spots on your gums and how to treat each condition.
Canker sores are small yellow or white mouth ulcers that have a red border. They can be painful and may burn or sting when you consume acidic beverages and foods, like alcohol or citrus fruit.
The exact cause of canker sores is unknown, but stress may play a role. Eating a lot of acidic foods, like tomatoes or citrus fruits, may also cause canker sores to develop.
Most canker sores typically aren’t a cause for concern and usually go away on their own within one to three weeks, says Dr. Gary Silverstrom, a dentist with The Silverstrom Group.
How to treat it: Severe canker sores that are larger, deeper, more painful, and take several weeks to heal may require treatment, says Dr. Marlene Shaw, a cosmetic dentist who runs a private practice.
Treatment may include oral rinses, which involve swishing a medicated mouthwash around your mouth. In some cases, your doctor may suggest an over-the-counter mouthwash or prescribe you one.
Other treatment options include:
This happens when an overgrowth of Candida fungus accumulates in the mouth. This can cause creamy white or yellow spots to appear on the gums, cheeks, tongue, or roof of your mouth.
Other symptoms include:
Most people have small amounts of Candida fungus in their mouths, but it is normally kept in check by bacteria and other microorganisms in your body. However, some medications, like antibiotics and some forms of contraception, can disrupt this balance and lead to an overgrowth that can cause oral thrush.
How to treat it: Oral thrush is typically treated with antifungal medications, like Nystatin, which you take for 10 to 14 days.
Oral lichen planus is an inflammatory condition that affects mucous membranes inside your mouth. It can cause white, lacy patches on the mouth and gums that may become painful open sores or red patches, Silverstrom says.
This condition is caused by the immune system attacking cells of the oral mucous membranes. Doctors aren’t yet sure exactly why some people’s immune systems do this, but stress and genetics are thought to play a role.
How to treat it: There is no cure for oral lichen, but there are treatments that can help you manage symptoms, such as corticosteroids to reduce inflammation and medications that modify your body’s immune response to lessen pain.
Leukoplakia is a condition in which white or gray patches develop on the gums, below the tongue and mouth, and inside the cheeks. These patches may harden or thicken over time and can’t be scraped off.
The exact cause of leukoplakia is unknown, but chronic irritation from tobacco products is thought to be a contributing factor, Shaw says.
The patches that appear with leukoplakia are typically painless, Shaw says, but the condition can be serious as some patches may show early signs of cancer. Seek medical attention if you notice symptoms of leukoplakia, including white or gray patches in your mouth that can not be wiped off.
The presence of leukoplakia patches does not necessarily mean you have cancer, but could be a sign, so your doctor will likely test you for cancer by conducting an oral biopsy.
How to treat it: Other treatments may include the removal of leukoplakia patches by scalpel, laser, or a freezing probe. A treatment plan may also include stopping the use of tobacco.
Pregnancy causes many hormonal changes in the body that may result in white spots or bumps appearing on the gums. These usually aren’t a cause for concern, but it’s a good idea to get them checked out by a dentist, Shaw says.
During pregnancy your levels of estrogen and progesterone increase, which can lead to many changes in your oral health, including increased inflammation of your gums and a decrease in your body’s ability to respond to bacteria found in plaque.
Staying on top of your oral hygiene by brushing and flossing daily as well as regularly seeing your dentist can help reduce inflammation and plaque buildup during pregnancy.
How to treat it: In some cases, your dentist may recommend doing nothing and just letting the hormonal changes run their course, Shaw says. However, in some cases, you may need periodontal treatment, such as a deep cleaning.
Periodontal abscess is a chronic gum condition that can cause pockets of pus to accumulate in the tissues of the gums. With this condition, you may see yellow pus, or small reddish/white balls pushing out of a swollen gum, Shaw says.
Other symptoms include:
These abscesses are usually the result of a serious gum disease called periodontitis. Periodontitis causes the gums to pull away from the teeth leaving pockets where bacteria can grow.
How to treat it: This condition is typically treated with a deep cleaning to remove the disease-causing bacteria from underneath your gum tissues, Shaw says. Your dentist might also prescribe an antibiotic or special mouth rinse.
If you notice white spots on your gums that are causing you some mild discomfort, you can treat them at home with over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications, like ibuprofen or eating cold foods to ease irritation, Shaw says.
However, if the white spots are causing severe pain, do not go away after a couple of weeks, and are accompanied by bleeding, loss of taste, a cottony feeling in your mouth, or pockets of pus, seek medical attention.
White spots on your gums can indicate a minor condition that will heal on its own, like a canker sore, or they can be a sign of a serious condition that may require treatment.
Some reasons for white spots on the gums include:
If minor canker sores are the cause of your white spots, they should clear up on their own in one to three weeks. However, if the white spots persist, become more painful, or are accompanied by bleeding, fever, loss of taste, or a cottony feeling in your mouth, seek medical attention.