The human body is remarkable when it comes to communication. You yawn when you're tired. Your stomach grumbles when you need food. You get the chills when you have a fever. Oral health is the same way. Most people know tooth pain or bleeding gums are reasons to seek dental care. But what if your gums are white? Read on to learn what it means and what you should do if you have white gums.
What Is Leukoplakia?
When you look inside your mouth, teeth are the only things you should see that are white. If your gums are white, you might have leukoplakia. The Mayo Clinic defines leukoplakia as a condition where thick, white spots form on the gums, bottom of the mouth and inner cheeks. They can even form on the tongue, and the white spots cannot be rubbed off or scraped off the surface on which they've formed. The medical world has yet to determine what exactly causes leukoplakia, but tobacco use in any form is highly suspected as one of the main reasons. Chronic alcohol abuse may be a culprit as well.
Most cases of leukoplakia are benign. But on occasion, it's an early indication of cancer. Oral cancer cases that originate beneath the tongue on the mouth's floor sometimes appear adjacent to leukoplakia patches. One precancerous condition is known as dysplasia. Dysplasia can be mild, moderate or severe, according to the American Cancer Society. The dysplasia severity will determine whether it progresses to cancer or disappears on its own.
What Are the Symptoms?
In addition to the white patches, leukoplakia can take several forms. The blotches can be irregularly shaped or flat in texture. They can also thicken or harden in some spots. The patches may appear alongside red lesions. These red lesions – known as erythroplakia – can be an indication of precancerous conditions.
Is an Appointment Necessary?
Yes, an appointment with your dentist or an oral surgeon is necessary if white patches have formed on your gums, as they may be a sign of a serious condition. You should schedule an appointment soon after you notice them. Early detection is key to treating or diagnosing a problem before it progresses into something more serious. Prepare for your appointment by noting when you first noticed the formation and your symptoms. Since the thought of a cancer diagnosis can be overwhelming, write down a list of questions to ask your dentist or doctor ahead of time.
Taking care of your teeth and gums starts with brushing at least twice a day, flossing and scheduling regular dental checkups. Your dentist is great at performing routine exams, and he or she is also qualified to diagnose potentially serious medical conditions, such as leukoplakia. If you see white gums the next time you peer inside your mouth, your body is trying to tell you something. In turn, you need to tell your dentist.