Leukoplakia is a condition where thick, white patches form on the lining of the cheeks and/or tongue. While it is true that smoking is the usual cause for this condition – hence why it is often called smoker’s keratosis) – other irritants may also contribute.
Mild leukoplakia is commonly harmless and typically goes away by itself. However, more severe cases may be associated with oral cancer. Thus, the latter must be given the proper treatment right away. In either scenario, leukoplakia cannot simply be scraped off the tongue.
Luckily, regular dental care can significantly help thwart recurrences of leukoplakia.
Symptoms of Leukoplakia:
Leukoplakia is identified by strange-looking patches within the mouth. These differ in appearance. Normally, patches resulting from this condition have the following traits:
- Gray or white in color
- Raised, hard, thick surface
- Rare: Red spots or general redness (may be an indication of cancer)
While leukoplakia is usually found on the tongue, the gums and cheeks are also susceptible. The patches may take a few weeks to develop. However, these are seldom painful. Some women also encounter leukoplakia in the vulva area which lies outside the genitals.
Causes of Leukoplakia
The true causes of this condition are still unknown. However, leukoplakia’s connection to tobacco is fairly firm. As revealed by research 3 out of 4 tobacco users will likely to develop leukoplakia at some point in time.
Other causes comprise of:
- An uneven, rough tongue
- Ill-fitting dentures
- Biting the insides of the cheek(s)
- Excess sun exposure on the lips
- HIV or AIDS
- Oral cancer
What is Hairy Leukoplakia?
EBV, otherwise known as Epstein-Barr virus, is the primary cause of this condition. Once a person acquires this virus, it lingers in the body.
Although this virus is dormant, this can still cause hairy leukoplakia patches to occur at any period. Additionally, outbreaks are more common in people who suffer from HIV/AIDS or another disease or ailment that causes the immune system to become suppressed.
The dentist will diagnose leukoplakia upon thorough examination. Although, a biopsy is the best indicator in the diagnosis of this condition. That way, pinpointing other possible causes like oral cancer can be possible.
To complete a biopsy, a tiny piece of tissue from the lesion will be extracted to test in the laboratory. A numbing agent is typically applied prior, so the patient won’t encounter pain from the tissue extraction.
When to See a Doctor
There are times when mouth sores can be painful or merely discomforting. In some cases, oral health complications can pinpoint a more serious condition.
It is advisable to see the dentist at once if any of the following occur:
- Lumps, dark, or red or white patches in the mouth
- Sores in the mouth that do not heal on their own within 2 weeks
- Persistent changes in the mouth’s tissues
To prepare for your dental appointment, it is helpful to make a list of:
- Essential dental and medical information like prior instances of symptoms and treatments (if any)
- The current symptoms you’re facing
- All supplements, vitamins, and medications you take regularly
- Questions to ask the dentist, primarily from the most to least important