What causes mouth white patches?

White patches in the mouth result from infections caused by bacteria, viruses and fungi. Infections of the skin around the mouth, mucous membranes inside the mouth, gums, and tongue are common causes of mouth white patches.

Damage to the mouth can be the result of chewing on the cheeks, excessive teeth brushing, trauma, or dentures that are not fitted properly. Each of these can cause inflammation, redness, and possibly white patches in the mouth. Mouth white patches can also result from underlying conditions, such as cancer and gum disease.

Common causes of mouth white patches

Common causes of mouth white patches include:

  • Alcohol use (long-term use)
  • Bacterial infections
  • Canker sores
  • Chewing on the inside of cheeks
  • Dental appliances
  • Human Papilloma Virus infections
  • Tobacco use (chewing or smoking)

Other causes of mouth white patches

Other conditions can also cause mouth white patches including:

  • Behcet’s syndrome (disease characterized by widespread inflammation of blood vessels)
  • Candidiasis (fungal infection)
  • Celiac disease (severe sensitivity to gluten from wheat and other grains that causes intestinal damage)
  • Crohn’s disease (inflammatory bowel disease that can affect any part of the intestine)
  • Herpes simplex virus
  • Immune system diseases, such as systemic lupus erythematosus (disorder in which the body attacks its own healthy cells and tissues)
  • Leukoplakia (precancerous condition of the mouth)
  • Salivary duct stone
  • Ulcerative colitis

Serious or life-threatening causes of mouth white patches

In some cases, mouth white patches may be a symptom of a serious or life-threatening condition that should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting. These include:

  • Human immunodeficiency virus/acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (HIV/AIDS)
  • Oral cancer

Questions for diagnosing the cause of mouth white patches

To diagnose your condition, your doctor or licensed health care practitioner will ask you several questions related to your mouth white patches including:

  • Are you currently receiving care for other health problems?
  • Do you smoke or use smokeless tobacco products?
  • When did you first notice the white patches in your mouth?
  • Have you recently been on antibiotic therapy?
  • Do you have any other symptoms?
  • What medications are you taking?

    What are the potential complications of mouth white patches?

    Because mouth white patches can be due to serious diseases, failure to seek treatment can result in serious complications and permanent damage. Once the underlying cause is diagnosed, it is important for you to follow the treatment plan that you and your health care professional design specifically for you to reduce the risk of potential complications including:

    • Cancer of the mouth or tongue
    • Serious infection
    • Tooth loss


    1. Mouth problems. FamilyDoctor.org. http://familydoctor.org/familydoctor/en/health-tools/search-by-symptom/mouth-problems.html.
    2. Leukoplakia. PubMed Health, a service of the NLM from the NIH. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0002041/
    3. Lee JJ, Hong WK, Hittelman WN, et al. Predicting cancer development in oral leukoplakia: ten years of translational research. Clin Cancer Res 2000; 6:1702.

    What are mouth white patches?

    White patches in the mouth are a common symptom of infection, inflammation, trauma, malignancy, and other underlying conditions and diseases. Mouth white patches result from pathogens, such as bacteria, viruses and fungi, which inflame the lining of the mouth causing swelling, redness, and ulcer formation. Ulcers most commonly occur on the inside of the mouth but may also occur on the tongue an... Read more about mouth white patchesintroduction


    What other symptoms might occur with mouth white patches?

    Mouth white patches may accompany other symptoms, which vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. Symptoms that frequently affect the mouth may also involve other body systems.

    Mouth symptoms that may occur along with mouth white patches

    Mouth white patches may accompany other symptoms affecting the mouth including:

    Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Annual Review Date: Sep 6, 2013 Copyright: © Copyright 2014 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

    This Article is Filed Under: Mouth, Teeth and Oral Health