Optimal oral health consists of proper maintenance of both the hard teeth and bone on your mouth as well as the soft tissues of the tongue, gums, lips, and inner cheek area. Have you recently noticed a discolored white patch on your soft tissue? Make an appointment with your dentist for a proper evaluation and diagnosis, but here are a few of the potential causes.
Cheek Patch: Linea Alba
Do you have a white patch on your inner cheek that looks like a horizontal line near where your teeth come together? This is likely a harmless condition called linea alba.
Linea alba is simply an area of soft tissue that has slightly worn away due to the friction of the neighboring teeth or the usage of oral tobacco products. While linea alba usually doesn't require any treatment, you should still visit the dentist to make sure that's what is causing the discoloration.
If you have linea alba and recurring cheek pain, you might have a crossbite that's pushing the teeth on one side of your mouth further into the cheek than normal. Orthodontic treatment can help correct this bite issue.
Tongue Patch: Sloughing or Thrush
White discoloration on the tongue can stem from the sloughing of dead cells. Sloughing tends to happen when you start using a new oral healthcare product that contains sodium lauryl sulphate, which is overly abrasive and drying for some people. Switching to an oral healthcare product that doesn't contain sodium lauryl sulphate can clear up the problem over time.
An oral yeast infection called thrush can also cause tongue discoloration. Thrush tends to cover the entire surface of the tongue in soft-feeling white sores that can break open while brushing. Those with systemic illnesses such as cancer or diabetes are more likely to get thrush. Your dentist can treat the thrush with a course of antifungal medications.
Any Soft Tissue: Leukoplakia
White patches appearing on the sides of the tongue, inside the cheeks, or -- more rarely -- on the gums can be caused by leukoplakia. The exact cause of leukoplakia is unknown but the condition tends to be more common in elderly patients and might be due to friction-based irritation, or tobacco or alcohol use. A textured version -- called hairy leukoplakia -- is more common in those with a weakened immune system.
Treatment will vary due to the cause. Avoiding oral irritants such as spicy or acidic foods or tobacco can be enough to make the leukoplakia clear up on its own. Otherwise, your dentist might apply a topical medication, prescribe an antiviral, or surgically remove the white layer.