While you’re brushing your teeth one morning, you notice that there are white spots on your gums. Understandably, you’re curious about what could cause this unusual oral health issue. You’re probably wondering if you should contact a dental health professional, or if this unsettling problem will go away on its own.

There are a wide variety of causes for white spots on the gum. Some of them are minor, but others do require treatment.

“If you notice white spots on your gums that can’t be easily removed, it’s always a good idea to see your dental professional. He will be able to determine what the spots are, as well as the cause of the spots and recommend a treatment plan,” says Pamela McClain, DDS, president of the American Academy of Periodontology, from Aurora, Colo.

What Causes White Gums?

Several issues ranging from irritation to an oral yeast infection could be the culprit for your white gums.

Here are a few of the most common causes of white gums:

Irritation. In some cases, white gums can be caused by irritation. Common irritating culprits may include home teeth-bleaching treatments. In some cases, even a chipped or broken tooth might irritate the tissue sufficiently to cause white gums.

Candidiasis. Also known as thrush, candidiasis is a yeast infection in the mouth. According to the American Academy of Oral Medicine, yeast can grow on any surface in the mouth – including the gums. Thrush generally appears as white matter in the mouth that resembles cottage cheese. Oral yeast infections are generally treated with anti-fungal medications.

Leukoplakia. This condition can cause white or gray patches to form on the surfaces inside the mouth, including on the gums. These infections occur more often in the elderly, but they are possible in patients of any age. The cause of these infections is currently unknown. However, it is important to note that, according to Ohio State’s Wexner Medical Center, leukoplakia is considered a pre-cancerous condition.

In general, leukoplakia is treated by removing the source of the issue, meaning you may be advised to quit smoking or a dentist might need to repair a chipped or broken tooth.

Oral cancers. According to medical experts, oral cancers are among the most commonly diagnosed forms of the disease. The American Cancer Society estimates that approximately 25,800 adults in the United States were diagnosed with oral cancer in 2010.

In order to determine if the spots on your gums are cancerous, your dentist will perform a biopsy. Treatments for oral cancer may include options such as surgery, radiation or chemotherapy.

  • Benign growths. Many spots that need to be biopsied are not actually cancerous. In these cases, the growth will likely be removed.

Other Health Issues and White Gums

According to some experts, oral health is also a valuable indicator of a person’s overall health. While in many cases white gums may be caused by oral conditions, this isn’t true for all patients. The body’s issues can manifest themselves in the mouth, too. For example, if a patient has a weakened immune system because of illness or stress, it is possible that those issues might present themselves in the gums.

Additionally, patients with anemia — a low iron count in the blood — may have problems with gum coloration. While the gum might not actually look white, extremely pale gums can be a symptom of anemia.

Can You Prevent White Gums?

Healthy lifestyle choices and good oral health practices are the best way to keep your gums healthy. In order to protect the health of your gums, experts recommend avoiding smoking or chewing tobacco. These habits greatly increase your chances of developing serious conditions such as oral cancer.

Make an Appointment!

Ultimately, because the causes of white gums vary from minor nuisances such as irritation to serious health issues including certain forms of oral cancer, it is vital for people who notice these gum issues to get in touch with a dental health professional and schedule a visit. The majority of patients with white gums aren’t going to be diagnosed with a serious condition, but the peace of mind and restored health that can result from a visit with your dentist are well worth the effort.