Any time you notice a change in the mouth, you may be tempted to panic. If you suddenly start to see one or several white patches on the inside of your mouth, on your gums, or on your tongue, it’s easy to worry about possible causes. In general, such white patches are benign. But, it’s always worth having any changes in your mouth checked out by a healthcare professional.
Is it cancer?
Probably not, but it could be. In general, white spots are caused by an overgrowth of tissue are called leukoplakia. The spots are thicker than their surroundings and cannot be rubbed off or easily scraped away. Usually, they are benign, but occasionally they are an early marker of cancer. It’s important to get any odd white patches in the mouth checked out by a pro.
Leukoplakia can be caused by a variety factors. It can be something as simple as rubbing from ill-fitting dental appliances or a rough tooth surface causing irritation. Tobacco use or chronic alcohol abuse can also cause the patches to develop. There’s even a very rare form that develops in patients with HIV.
So what do I do?
After you see the dentist or oral surgeon, they will probably take a biopsy if they see any worrying signs. The treatment for leukoplakia is to let the lesions heal. If they are caused by irritation, the dentist or oral surgeon will try to eliminate the source of the irritation. They may smooth and polish a rough surface or re-fit another irritant. If tobacco use is the suspected culprit, the doctor will likely encourage you to stop using tobacco.
In the case of lesions that don’t heal on their own, it is possible to have the patches removed. You may need to see an oral surgeon for that procedure.
The white patch moved. Now what?
While leukoplakia is not going to be removed with a simple scratch, what if your white spot does move about with simple scraping? It may be oral thrush.
Oral thrush is a type of yeast infection called candidiasis. It is more common in people who suffer from dry mouth, which allows the yeast to overgrow, and young children and people with compromised immune systems. Unlike leukoplakia, oral thrush is generally uncomfortable, with burning or soreness. It can make eating uncomfortable if the lesions spread enough.
Your doctor or dentist can treat oral thrush with anti-fungal medication. They are readily able to diagnose it and help treat it. If dry mouth contributes to the development of thrush, consider treating the dry mouth to prevent recurrences.
Any changes in your mouth should be carefully watched and checked by your dentist. The good news is, most causes of white spots in the mouth are readily treatable.