Mouth Discoloration: What Affects Your Tongue, Cheeks, and Gums

dentistry, mouth and teeth close up smiling

Most people want to enjoy not only white teeth but healthy, pink gum tissue, as well. Noticing discoloration in your mouth can be disconcerting. What are you supposed to do when your teeth, tongue, lips, cheeks, or gums take on a new hue? Fortunately, Dr. Cindy Flanagan and our Houston dental team can assist you with this concern. We can help you understand what tarnishes your tongue, darken your cheeks, stain your gums, and more. In the following blog, we describe how discoloration can affect your mouth, and what we can do to restore its proper redness.

Tongue Troubles

A healthy tongue is typically a pink or purplish color, depending on your particular complexion. It should be very similar to the red hue of the gums. However, a variety of conditions can affect this organ, turning it virtually every color of the rainbow, depending on the disorder. Health Hype describes the basics of tongue discoloration:

  • White: “white patches, streaks, or lines are the most common tongue discoloration…a whitish coating is not uncommon and often related to poor oral hygiene,” since plaque can build up on this surface. A white color may come from “leukoplakia…a condition marked by abnormal growth of the mucous membrane cells,” a virus, “oral thrush…a fungal infection of the mouth…canker sores” or “oral lichen planus,” which “occurs for unknown reasons.”
  • Bright red: this color is close enough to normal that it may not actually be a concern, but if your tongue is a deep, dark red, it may be due to “inflammation…vitamin deficiencies,” a rash from “scarlet fever,” a condition called “geographic tongue,” or “toxic shock syndrome (TSS)…an uncommon condition where the toxins from certain types of bacteria…[trigger] a type of immune reaction.”
  • Blue: of all the tints your tongue can take on, blue is one of the most serious. Health Hype points out: “it is an important sign of cyanosis – a condition caused by an insufficient oxygen supply to tissue. The condition may be caused by blood disorders, diseased blood vessels, cardiac (heart) dysfunction or respiratory (lung and airway) insufficiency.” This symptom definitely merits a trip to the doctor’s office.
  • Purple: this could result form “nutritional deficiencies,” or it could “precede the development of a blue tongue.”
  • Black: a black tongue is often accompanied by “elongated…papillae…giving the tongue a hairy feel.” This condition is typically tied to “an increase in bacteria within the mouth” from using “certain medication…types of mouthwash, tobacco use, poor dental hygiene,” or “mouth breathing.”
  •  Yellow: this rare discoloration could be “jaundice,” if your eyes and skin also turn yellow. It may also be the early stages of black tongue.

If you notice any of the above symptoms, we recommend that you come and see Dr. Flanagan as soon as possible for a consultation.

Do Your Cheeks Have Streaks?

If your cheeks have become discolored, you may be suffering from melasma. explains: “melasma is a condition in which areas of the skin become darker than the surrounding skin. Doctors call this hyperpigmentation. It typically occurs on the face,” including the “cheeks and above the upper lip. The dark patches often appear on both sides of the face in a nearly identical pattern.” Melasma often occurs due to hormonal changes and sun exposure. If you suffer from hyperpigmentation, balancing your hormones may cure the condition, and topical cosmetic treatments such as hydroquinone cream, “chemical peels…azelaic acid cream…[and] Intense Pulsed Light therapy” may help.

Periodontal Pigmentation

Your gum tissue may also change color for myriad reasons. Health Hype explains that your oral mucosa may become discolored due to “injuries leading to certain external particles getting embedded,” such as “broken off pencil points” causing a gray pigment (this is most common in children. Certain medications and mouth rinses may also discolor the tissue.  Health Hype notes that “metal poisoning” from “bismuth, mercury, lead, silver, arsenic, copper, and zinc” can also cause blue, black, and gray” streaks. Changes in blood vessels can also cause “blue to purple discoloration” or “pigmented lesions.” There are also a wide range of conditions that can create “brown to black discoloration,” including pregnancy, “overactivity of the pituitary gland…[and] chronic adrenal insufficiency,” to name a few.

Your gums may also appear differently due to periodontal disease.

How We Can Help

In addition to our advanced teeth whitening services, Dr. Flanagan and our team can check your mouth tissue for abnormalities at your routine preventive care appointments. If you’re suffering from discoloration due to periodontal disease, we can treat your infection to clear this up and alleviate other uncomfortable symptoms. We also offer a suite of cosmetic dentistry services to help you enhance other aspects of your oral appearance.

Contact Our Houston Dental Practice Today

Are you dealing with mouth discoloration? Contact us today to find out more and schedule an appointment with Dr. Flanagan. We can help diagnose your condition and get you the treatment you need to enjoy a healthy, beautiful mouth.

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