White Patches in Mouth, Throat, Symptoms, Causes, Pictures, Treatment

White patches in mouth can be embarrassing and make swallowing of food and drinks difficult. But could this patches in mouth and throat signify oral cancer? In this article we address the causes, symptoms, pictures of how the patches look and the available home remedies to get rid of them.

According to a research by the Cambridge University Hospital CUH, white patches in mouth are a normal condition. The patches are described as “an area of thickening along the mucous membrane lining the inside mouth”. The size vary from one person to the other. Most commonly no treatment option is required. The patches will heal on their own within a week or two, failure to which you need to see a dentists.

The patches can appear to a number of reasons, ranging from simple one such as dentures scratching called frictional keratosis, a fungal infection in the mouth a condition called thrush candidiasis to serious condition such as oral cancer.

The patches are more common to people who smoke a lot (smokers’ keratosis). Treatment for the condition involves getting rid of the symptoms, but you need to know that treating the underlying cause of the patches is the best way to get rid of them and avoid future recurrence.

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What do white patches in mouth mean?

White patches in mouth, sometime referred to as oral leukoplakia. They are white or gray patches that appear on the lining of the mouth. It is common for them to appear on the lips (cold sores), the gums, the tongue, the palate (roof of mouth) or the tongue.

The cause of the patches can be poor oral hygiene or simple burn from taking hot foods and drinks. The patches usually go away on their own without much medical attention given. If they are appearing on the tongue, you can simple scrap them off with a tongue scrapper. The patches make the tongue lack taste and this can be worrisome.

Avoiding brushing your mouth or using acidic foods and alcohol is key in speeding the healing process of the patches. Apply ice on the patches or smearing the patch with honey and coconut oil can provide a covering that will prevent more friction and avoid the patches from becoming blistered. Be warned, if the patches are not gone by then, it will mean that the patches are as a result of an underlying medical condition.

You need to visit a dentist who will diagnosed the addition symptoms and prescribe the most appropriate medication. At this time please avoid over-the-counter medication least you make the condition worse.

What do white patches in mouth look like?

The appearance of white patches in mouth vary from person to person. The general appearance will depend on the underlying cause of the patches. The patches may vary in terms of size, shape, color and the average time they appear on your mouth before they heal on their own and go away.

The other possible metric that define the patches is the ability to recur and cause future attacks. A common case is herpes infection, where the virus causing the infection in mouth remains dormant in the body nerves even after the patches are treated and healed. The patches will happen on the same spots they were at a different time in the future.

Finally the patches will differ in terms of contagious, that is the ability of the patches to be infected from one person to another. For externally cause patches, the possibility of transferring it to other people is minimal. On the other hand, if the cause is a virus, in this case, herpes Simplex Virus HSV 1  then it is very likely for you to transfer it to other people through sharing clothes or oral kissing.

In most cases the patches be few or many depending on the cause, large or small in size of about 2-5mm, oval or irregular in shape, white or gray in color and rough in texture

White patches in mouth symptoms

The other quality of white patches in mouth that vary is the symptoms. It is common for people to experience or observe varying symptoms depending on what the cause of the patches inn mouth is. However, there are some common symptoms likely to be observed in majority of people with the white patches in mouth, they include but not limited to the following;

  • Sores may start to appear on the mouth lining, lips and tongue
  • Redness and swelling of the mucous membrane
  • Inflammation may be observed
  • Irregular white or gray patches
  • Ulcers in mouth and lips
  • Rough patches inside mouth
  • Pain in mouth

Please visit a health care provider if the above symptoms persist or pain and swelling become intolerable. Be warned, self-medication may worsen the symptoms or even make it become life threatening.

White patches in mouth pictures

Below are some images you can use to compare with the patches in your mouth, to try and gauge the similarity or difference between the different causes of the patches. NOTE, the diagnosis offered cannot be substituted for a physical checkup, you need to visit a dentist.

Possible Causes:

1. Mouth cancer

Oral cancer is a less common cause of white patches in mouth. If it is found to be the cause, a tumor may be seen in the inside cheek, the mouth palate, the tongue or the throat and in rare case the lips and tongue if adequate treatment is not taken in time.

A serious form of oral cancer can be shown by the following symptoms;

  • Numerous lumps in mouth that fail to go away.
  • Appearance of white patches and on lips and mouth lining
  • Mouth becomes numb
  • Sore and ulcers start to appear
  • Painful jaws and gums

Medication and treatment of oral cancer will depend in the type and stage of the cancer. You will need to see a dentist or a general health provider for early diagnosis and treatment to avoid the cancer spreading to other parts of your body cells.

According to cancer research, the condition is more common in men than in women. Human papilloma virus HPV is found to be commonly associated with the majority of condition in young adults. Alcoholics are at the highest risk of having mouth cancer.

The most common treatment option are chemotherapy, where medicine both oral and injection are used to kill the cancerous cells, radiation therapy, which involve use of high energy ray and Surgery which involves surgically removing the cancerous cell. All this option will be communicated to you by the doctor.

Apart from treating the cancer, there exist some life style changes you can apply to reduce the chance of getting the cancer in the first place, you need to avoid smoking, reduce the general intake of alcohol and maintain a healthy balanced diet.

2. White patches in mouth HIV

Human Immunodeficiency virus is a common cause of mouth sores and blisters. According to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, it is estimated that at least one third of HIV patients suffer from mouth complications including white patches, blisters and painful sores in mouth.

When you have HIV the patches become even more painful and difficult to treat and get rid of. The virus can be transmitted from one person to the other, especially when you have open sores or the patches are raptured and blood comes out from them.

Also avoid sharing toothbrush or toothpick. You should also abstain from kissing till the patches are healed or go away.

The cure for the virus is not known. But when the virus is detected earl, ARV drugs could be used to suppress the virus, giving your immune system the boost it needs to fight infection. Maintaining a healthy balanced diet is important. Please avoid alcohol and smoking.

3. Strep throat

This is a sore throat caused by streptococcal infection. It is a bacterial infection that causes inflammation and pain in the throat. It is common in children of ages 5 and 15, though it is possible for it to affect those below or above that age bracket. Coughing and sneezing in public can sprea the infection from one person to the other. The condition can vary from mild to severe depending on how strong your immune system is. The symptom;

  • Sore throats in mild cases
  • Fever
  • Swollen tonsil and throat
  • Difficulty in swallowing
  • Enlarged lymph glands
  • Persistent headaches

When the above symptoms persist, you need to seek medical attention. You doctor will prescribe antibiotics to treat the infection. This medication are responsible to inhibiting the spread of bacteria and infection. You can also try over-the-counter painkillers, drink warm water with lemon or a simple salty water gargle.

4. Lichen

Oral lichen has been found to be an inflammatory condition that affects the mucous membrane lining you mouth, tongue and throat. They appear as white patches, swollen tissue or open sores and ulcers. The lesion cause by lichen may be painful, cause burning in the mouth and general discomfort.

The condition is not contagious, thus cannot be passed from one person to the other. This because the condition is an immune system disorder, happens when the immune system start to attack healthy body tissues and cells (autoimmune system disorder)

Symptoms for the condition vary. If you are diagnosed with the condition you will need regular monitoring because you are at the risk of developing mouth cancer in the affected area.

The oral lichen has no cure, it is a chronic condition with treatment aiming at reducing the inflammation, the swelling and the pain. Treatment also aims at healing the lesions caused and getting rid of the white patches in mouth.

5. Smoking and chewing tobacco

Excessive use of tobacco products both chewing and smoking has be known to be the main cause of oral cancer and oral leukoplakia. Continues use of tobacco corrodes the mucous membrane lining your inside mouth. It thus destroys the surface of the tongue, the palate, the inside cheeks.

The result of this is the appearance of white patches in mouth. The patches may vary in size and shape depending on the level of oral hygiene you maintain. Regardless of this, your gums may start to bleed and teeth becomes sensitive. Your mouth may also start to give a bad smell.

The treatment option for this patches usually involves discontinuing the use of tobacco products and maintaining high levels of oral hygiene, brush your mouth often after meals and the patches will be gone before you notice.

6. White patches in mouth after tooth extraction

It is common for white patches to appear in mouth after a tooth extraction. If the patches appear in the socket of the teeth, then it means its healing well.  In many case, your mouth is wet, it is impossible and painful to scab the socket after a tooth extraction.

It is also possible for the patches to appear on the gum and tongue, but this should not worry you, the patches will disappear on their own with time. So if the extraction was done by a dentist, keep taking the prescribed medication and you mouth will be ok. However, if you removed the teeth at home, you could use salty water to gargle your mouth with and the result will be equally good. If pain persist you can get over-the-counter medication and you are good to go.

7. White patches in mouth after tonsillectomy

If you start to develop white patches in mouth after tonsillectomy which is a surgical procedure to remove the tonsil, it should not be a cause for warry or discomfort. The white patches will eventually heal on their own and the pain will be long gone.

What you need to do is drink a lot of water, avoid acid and alcoholic drinks for a while till the tonsil heal completely. These white patches are scabs and should be left to heal naturally on their own. Apart from the white patches it is common for you to observe the following changes after the procedure;

  • Swollen tongue
  • The tongue becomes white
  • Swollen uvula
  • White scabs in the back of throat

8. Oral leukoplakia

Oral leukoplakia are white patches that appear inside the mouth, on the tongue, palate, or inside cheek. The condition is not associated with a chemical or physical causing agent except maybe tobacco. The patches appearing are painless and increases the risk of oral cancer infection.

The patches maybe painless but if they disappear after a week or two you need to see your dentist as soon as you can. The cause of oral leukoplakia is unknown but excessive use of tobacco increases the chances of getting infected.

The condition is not harmless, but you need to reduce tobacco use and alcohol consumption. If you are at the risk of getting mouth cancer, your doctor may prescribe a surgical procedure to get rid of the cancerous cells that may have started to grow.

9. Thrush candidiasis

Thrush candidiasis is a fungal infection of the mouth. it is not contagious and can be easily treated with antifungals. It is also referred to as oral thrush or oral candidiasis due to the yeast and bacteria causing it-candida

Visible symptoms will include;

  • White patches in mouth, lips, tongue, palate and gums
  • Your mouth my burn and feel painful
  • Your mouth may start to crack

The treatment of oral thrush can be done with simple antibiotics, they can be gel, liquids or oral pills. The topically medication be for a week or two and if the symptoms will not have gone by then, then you will need to have your general health practitioner run addition tests on you.

White patches in mouth and back of throat causing bad breath

Bad breath can be very embarrassing and demotivating. It can crash your self-esteem and cause you to lose confidence in public. But are white patches in mouth and the back of your throat causing the bad breath?

With careful observation, you will note that, the white spots on your tonsils, are tiny rounded object of gunk lodged in your tonsil. These are what has been found to give the bad breath otherwise known as Halitosis.

As you feed, food bites and dead skin cells that peel from the mouth lining, get caught in the folds of the tonsils. With time, when the glands are inflamed, swollen or covered in wrinkles, the condition worsen. The particles are invested with bacteria and yeast. As they work on the foods, they emit foul-smelling compounds which causes your mouth to give bad breath.

The condition worsen as more and more food gets trapped in the tonsils. If you do not maintain high oral hygiene the problem could persist. The condition is not life threatening, but it could lead to tooth decay which can be shameful and cause reduced self-esteem.

Milky white patch in mouth lining hurts

If adequate medical attention is not given, it is possible for the patches to spread all through the mouth lining. When this happens, the lining becomes inflamed, swollen and may start to grow lumps. With time the sores rupture and develop into painful sores and ulcer.

At this stage, your mouth will become irritating and itching. The teeth become sensitive to hot or cold foods and drinks and in rare case, it may cause the gums to bleed and the teeth to start to ache. If you had not seen a dentist, this is the right time to do so. If you had been using over the counter medication, please discontinue it and seek medical attention.

You can use oral painkillers or apply anti-inflammatory creams on the cheek to sooth and reduce the pain before you reach the dentist. The dentist will diagnose the symptoms and identify the underlying cause of the condition, then prescribe the right medication.

Treatment for white patches in mouth and throat

The treatment option available for white patches in mouth are only for treating the symptoms and not the underlying cause of the patches. The best way to treat the patches is by having your doctor check you out to identify the actual cause of the patches, then treat it.

That is to say, if the cause of the white patches is oral cancer or thrush candidiasis, treating these cause is the best option of getting rid of them. In the topic above we have provided the options available for each of the causes mention. Please refer.

Otherwise, common treatment option especially for patches that form ulcers, sores or blisters in mouth are, acyclovir, famciclovir and valacyclovir. This medication should only be used when prescribed by a professional health personnel. You could also try changing your toothpaste to a more natural one with no chemicals compounds.

Natural home remedies to get rid, cure White patches in mouth

To ease the pain, reducing the swelling and inflammation and to reduce the chances of an oral infection when you have the white patches in mouth, you could try out the following simple, readily available and relatively cheap home remedies.

When effectively used, they will be able to sooth your mouth and speed the healing process when getting rid of the patches. Be warned, the remedies will on heal and reduce the symptoms, not cure the underlying cause of the symptoms, please visit your health care provider for effective diagnosis. You could try;

  • Aloe Vera, has antibacterial properties helpful in preventing infection in your mouth. Pluck a fresh aloe Vera leaf, squeeze the gel out and apply inside your mouth on the parts with the patches. Leave it for five minute before you can rinse it off, do this twice a day for a week and the result will be good.
  • Coconut oil, fresh coconut oil is rich in anti-inflammatory and anti-itching properties, when you apply it in the mouth lining, it will reduce the swelling caused and speed the healing of the white patches in mouth.
  • Chamomile tea, this is a perfect choice for sore throats and canker sores, it consist of daisy plant known to induce sleep and promote relaxation. It is thus a good pick to reduce the pain and itching caused by the patches in mouth. the chemical compound responsible for all this is bisabolo or levomenol
  • Raw honey, raw honey is rich in antibacterial and anti-inflammatory qualities. It’s therefore a good choice for coating painful canker sores, ulcers and blisters inside mouth.
  • Pepper mint, the oil is rich in anti-inflammatory properties and anti-microbial qualities that can reduce the chances of an infection. It also has astringents that will help tighten the tissues around the patches in your mouth.


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