What Do Black Spots on Gums Mean?

By Martin Green

Most spots found on gums are not serious and result from natural skin pigments, tiny bruises, hardened plaque, pieces of silver fillings under the gum or a vein; but in rare cases they can mean oral malignant melanoma, a form of oral cancer. This disease is often fatal. If you notice any change to your gums, visit a dentist to get a thorough diagnosis.

Calculus

Calculus, also known as tartar, occurs when plaque hardens and, according to Dr. Phyllis Beemsterboer of UCLA, it cannot be removed by simply brushing or flossing. Calculus can range in color from dark yellow to black, and can appear along your gum line in the form of spots; it can lead to bad breath and receding gums. A dentist can remove excess calculus, but regular flossing and brushing will prevent it from occurring. According to the Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator David M. Kingsley, special toothpastes that combat calculus, containing pyrophosphates, are available.

Melanin Spots

People with dark skin or with dark-skinned ancestry are prone to melanin spots forming on the gums. Melanin is a naturally occurring pigment and is generally harmless, although there are laser treatments that can remove these spots. According to the University of Tennessee College of Medicine, in rare cases melanin spots can be linked to the hereditary disease polyposis.

Amalgam Tattoos

These gum discolorations are quite common and benign. They are formed when particles from silver fillings root themselves in the mouth’s soft tissue. The spots can also occur if you have false teeth, as particles from the metal of a cap are lodged within the gum. They can be black, dark blue or gray and look like a tattoo. According to the Oral Cancer Foundation, they are harmless and can occur over time, or during a dental operation. Although benign, they can be removed by a dentist if you think they look unsightly. Otherwise they are permanent.

Oral Malignant Melanoma

Malignant melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer but it is rarely found in the mouth. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, oral malignant melanoma accounts for between 0.2 percent and 8 percent of all melanomas. If you smoke, chew tobacco or drink heavily your chances of developing oral melanoma are increased. It starts as a small black spot, generally less than 1mm in diameter, which is actually a tumor that grows, with uneven edges. Malignant melanomas are often fatal, because they are often not discovered until they have reached an advanced stage, by which time survival rate is, on average, two years.

Prevention/Solution

Brushing and flossing regularly will improve your oral hygiene. Avoid chewing tobacco, smoking and drinking excessively. Go for regular dental checks. That way your dentist can detect early signs of disease. If she notices something like oral malignant melanoma before it grows, it could save your life. If you notice any black spots on your gums, get them checked immediately by a dentist.

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