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Leukoplakia: Overview, Causes, Symptoms, Risk Factors & Treatment

What is Leukoplakia?

Leukoplakia refers to a condition wherein white and thick patches form on the lining of the cheeks of the mouth as well as in the tongue.

While it is true that smoking is the usual cause for this condition, other irritants may also cause this to occur. Moreover, mild leukoplakia is commonly harmless and typically goes away by itself.

Meanwhile, more severe cases may be associated with oral cancer. These must be given proper treatment urgently. Luckily, regular dental care can significantly aid thwart recurrences.

What is Hairy Leukoplakia?

EBV otherwise known as Epstein-Barr virus is deemed as the primary cause of this condition. Once a person acquired this virus, it lastingly lingers in the body. Although this virus is dormant this can still cause hairy leukoplakia patches to occur at any period. In addition to this, outbreaks are more usual in people who suffer from immune problem and HIV.

What causes Leukoplakia?

The main cause of this condition is still unknown, but, this is precisely connected to tobacco use such as pipe smoking or chronic smoking.

In truth, smoking is the most usual cause. As revealed by some research 3 out of 4 tobacco users will likely to develop leukoplakia at some point in time.

Other causes comprise of:

  • Uneven and rough tongue
  • Ill-fitting dentures
  • Biting the cheek
  • Sun exposure to the lips
  • HIV or AIDS
  • Oral cancer ( even though this is rare)

Causes of Hairy Leukoplakia

Hairy leukoplakia often occurs as a result of an infection with the Epstein-Barr virus which remains in the body of the infected individual for life. EBV is dormant but can be triggered when the immune system is weak especially due to HIV/AIDS. The reactivation of the virus can lead to hairy leukoplakia.

What are the 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:

  • Irregular of flat-textured
  • Gray or white in color
  • Comes with raised, hard and thick surface
  • The patches barely come with red spots and redness may be an indication of cancer.

In addition, leukoplakia usually emerges on the tongue. But, gums and cheeks are also susceptible. The patches may take a few weeks to develop. However, these are seldom painful. Some women encounter leukoplakia in the vulva area which lies outside the genitals.

Symptoms of Hairy Leukoplakia

For those with hairy leukoplakia, white, fuzzy patches resembling ridges or folds on the side of the tongue can be observed which can be mistaken for oral thrush.

What increases the risk of Leukoplakia?

Risk factors for leukoplakia include tobacco and long-term alcohol use. For hairy leukoplakia, people with HIV/AIDS are more susceptible to develop hairy leukoplakia.

How Is Leukoplakia Diagnosed?

The dentist may consider leukoplakia upon thorough examination; but, a biopsy is more recommendable in order to point out other possible causes like oral cancer. A tiny piece of tissue from the lesion will be extracted to be tested in the laboratory, this is the procedure required for a biopsy. Additionally, a numbing agent shall be used in order for the patient not to encounter any pain.

When to see a doctor?

There are times when mouth sores can be painful or annoying without being harmful. In some other cases, mouth complications can pinpoint a more serious condition.

It is advisable to see the dentist at once if any of the following is encountered:

  • Lumps, dark, red or white patches in the mouth
  • Sores or white plaques in the mouth that do not heal by themselves within 2 weeks
  • Persistent changes in the mouth’s tissues

To be prepared for the dental appointment, it is helpful to make a list of:

  • Essential dental and medical information like prior instances of symptoms and treatment (if any)
  • The current symptoms even though these appear unconnected to the condition
  • All supplements, vitamins, and medications which are taken regularly
  • Questions to ask the dentist, primarily from the most vital ones to the least important

Disclaimer: The oral health information published on this web page is solely intended for educational purposes. Hawaii Family Dental strongly recommends to always consult licensed dentists or other qualified health care professionals for any questions concerning your oral health.


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