Finding a white patch, spot or sore on your tongue or gums isn’t unusual, but sometimes you might wonder if it’s a sign of a serious problem. Rest assured that diseases like oral cancer are rare. However, if you’re worried that a white or red spot in your mouth might be something other than a canker sore, there are signs you can check for, and you can visit your dentist or physician if you’re still worried.
What Are Canker Sores?
That annoying, painful spot in your mouth is probably a canker sore. Canker sores are mouth ulcers, and they can appear for many reasons including viruses, mouth injuries, food allergies, stress, mineral or vitamin deficiencies, and hormonal changes. Sometimes they appear for no known reason at all.
The spot in your mouth is probably a canker sore if:
- It’s a painful spot with a white or yellow center.
- It’s on the tongue, upper mouth surface, base of the gums or inner cheeks or lips.
- It’s less than one-third of an inch in diameter.
- It stops hurting after seven to 10 days.
- It turns gray as it heals, which takes one to three weeks.
Could It Be Oral Thrush?
White patches in the mouth are a common sign of oral thrush. A small amount of this fungus lives in our mouths all the time, but when conditions are favorable, it grows out of control and causes creamy white patches on the tongue and mouth. Thrush generally isn’t painful except sometimes when swallowing, though the patches can bleed when scraped.
You’re more likely to develop oral thrush if:
- You’ve been taking antibiotics.
- Your immune system is weak through chronic disease, immunosuppressive medication or general poor health.
- You’re very old or a young baby.
- You have diabetes or HIV.
- You wear badly fitting dentures.
Eating yogurt can sometimes cure a mild case of oral thrush, but if the condition persists, you should see your doctor.
Signs of Oral Cancer
Most cases of spots in the mouth aren’t oral cancer, but if the condition does occur, early treatment provides the best cure. You should see your physician if you feel that your spot is something more serious than a simple canker sore. Other signs to watch out for include:
- A spot or sore that doesn’t begin to heal after 10 days.
- Difficulty using your mouth or throat normally.
- A white or red patch or a lump on your gums, tongue, tonsils or on your mouth lining that doesn’t go away.
- Painful, tender or numb mouth or tongue.
- A color change inside your mouth.
It’s a rare and lucky person who never experiences a canker sore, and some unfortunate people suffer from them regularly. The warning signs of something more serious are spots, sores, patches and other lumps, bumps and changes in color in the mouth that don’t resolve by themselves. If you’re worried about a change in your mouth, see your dentist or doctor.