A prominent symptom of various oral diseases, the development of white spots in the mouth can, at times, be a sign of precancerous lesions and therefore, should not be ignored.
White spots in the mouth is a symptom, and not a disease, that manifests in many conditions which affect the oral cavity. These spots may occur anywhere on the mucous membranes of the oral cavity, including the tongue, inner cheek (the buccal mucosa), and the gums. These white spots usually manifest in the form of patches, or groups.
It is important to note that any kind of change in color of the oral cavity is indicative of a change in the cellular activity. The growth of white spots in oral cavity is no different, and one needs to understand the various causes of this oral condition, so as to diagnose it and follow it up with proper treatment.
As we said earlier, these spots in mouth usually indicate one of the various underlying conditions, ranging from fungal infection to precancerous lesion, affecting the oral cavity.
Oral candidiasis, or oral thrush as it is commonly known as, is a fungal infection of the oral cavity that is caused by the fungal species Candida albicans. This infection usually occurs in immunocompromised individuals as an opportunistic infection, especially in babies. At times, it can also result from ill-fitting dentures. In this case, the white spots most often appear on the tongue and palate in the form of patches.
Oral lichen planus is a non-contagious condition that affects the mucous membranes of the oral cavity, resulting in discoloration in the form of white spots which typically appear in a spiderweb-like pattern. Though the exact cause of this condition is not known, it is believed that there is no pathogen involved in this disease. While nutritional deficiencies, allergic reactions, tobacco chewing, and smoking are considered to be the likely causes of this condition, none have been conclusively proven as yet.
Leukoplakia is an oral precancerous lesion which happens to be yet another cause of white spots in mouth. This condition typically manifests as adherent white patches, mostly on the buccal mucosa near the molars. These white patches can be distinguished from oral candidiasis, in that, these patches are normally asymptomatic in nature and cannot be pulled out. The main cause of leukoplakia patches are believed to be tobacco chewing and smoking.
Other causes include tonsillitis (which causes white spots on tonsils), keratosis pharyngis, mouth ulcers, etc. One may also observe these spots in case of measles, wherein they are referred to as Koplik’s spots. Typically seen on a reddish background, they act as the first oral sign of measles — and thus play a crucial role in the diagnosis of this condition.
In most of the cases, these spots are accompanied by some generic symptoms, which are helpful in diagnosis of the above-mentioned conditions. These include –
» Burning sensation in mouth
» Inability to eat food — especially spicy food — due to pain, leading to loss of appetite
» Change in taste, or bad taste in mouth
» Difficulty in opening the jaw and other related dental problems
The treatment of white spots in mouth will depend on the underlying factor causing it.
» In case of candidiasis, for instance, the patient will need to undergo oral thrush treatment in the form of antifungal drugs.
» If the person has ill-fitting dentures then he should get them repaired, or replaced.
» If measles is the underlying problem, then the patient should immediately consult a doctor and take proper treatment for this condition.
» Though there is no cure for lichen planus as yet, the inflammation caused by the condition can be curbed by administering corticosteroids and topical calcineurin inhibitors.
» For treating precancerous conditions, like leukoplakia, first and foremost the person has to stop the intake of tobacco, after which the dentist will prescribe topical medications, like ointments rich in vitamin A.
» Do not touch these spots. Whilst doing so, you might unknowingly expose them to the bacteria on your hands, which, in turn, may further worsen the condition.
» Do not let your mouth become dry. This will cause more irritation and discomfort. You can keep your mouth hydrated by rinsing it with water regularly.
» Be careful while brushing, or chewing your food. You might end up scraping these white spots with the toothbrush, or your teeth, and cause further damage.
» Do not ignore these spots. You should promptly seek medical attention if: (i) These spots don’t go on their own within 2-3 days; (ii) They are causing a lot of pain and discomfort; or (iii) They are spreading.
While the development of these spots in mouth is usually not a serious symptom, there may be instances, wherein the same may manifest as a sign of a precancerous lesion. Having said that, it is important to get the exact cause diagnosed, so as to treat the condition on a priority basis to prevent any further complications.
Disclaimer: This article is purely for the purpose of providing information, and should not be used as a substitute for medical advice.