White spots in mouth

Reviewed by Frank Cockerill, MD, July 21, 2017

White spots on the tongue or in the mouth can be an advanced symptom of HIV/AIDS. Those experiencing this symptom should see a doctor immediately.

A white spot or patch can be symptomatic of chlamydia, gonorrhea, HIV, or AIDS and are characterized by an area of thickening in the lining of the mouth that has produced a white appearance.

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The lining of our mouth and tongue is made of a special type of membrane called mucosa. Mucosa is typically pink in color, but there are ways for the lining to change color.

What do these white spots look like?

These spots can vary in size and can differ on a person-to-person basis. Spots can also be irregularly shaped. In many cases, white spots on the tongue start on the edge of the tongue and move towards the center. White spots that line the mouth are typically found on the inner sides of the cheek.

Can STDs cause white spots in the mouth?

There are numerous causes for white spots to appear in the mouth. Getting tested regularly is the best way to stay up-to-date on your sexual health. If you are having unprotected sex or sex with a new partner, STD testing may be the right decision for you.

Most people don't know that white spots around the tongue or mouth may be a symptom of chlamydia, gonorrhea, HIV, and AIDS.

Gonorrhea and chlamydia are curable with antibiotics if detected and treated early. As long as it's treat in the early stages, long-term risks associated with gonorrhea and chlamydia are minimal.

While HIV is not curable, patients can treat and manage the disease with a highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) in order to maintain a high quality of life, for as long as possible. Most patients start treatment for HIV/AIDS immediately upon receiving their test results to help prevent future symptoms and complications.

Untreated STDs can cause long term health problems for patients, so it's important to get tested if you believe you're at risk.

Before you can discuss treatment options with a doctor, you need to get tested.

What else can cause white spots or patches in the mouth?

Aside from STDs, there are a number of causes that could be causing white spots around the mouth.

  • Excessively dry mouth: If your mouth becomes dry for prolonged periods, it is possible to develop white spots or patches around your tongue or mouth. This is sometimes referred to as 'cotton mouth.'
  • Thrush: A growth of a yeast that has manifested itself in the mouth. These white spots can develop on the gums, cheeks, or the roof of the mouth or even the tongue.
  • Migratory glossitis: sometimes referred to as 'geographic tongue,' is a condition that presents itself as tiny, pinkish-white bumps (papillae), which are actually short, fine, hair-like projections. This condition is benign, with no risk to the patient.
  • Oral/mouth cancer: One of the symptoms of oral cancer can be white spots covering the inner parts of the mouth and tongue. Special testing is required to determine if your white spots are a result of cancer.
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