Leukoplakia is a medical condition that causes white patches to form on the mucous membranes of the mouth. These patches can occur on the tongue, inside of the cheeks, or on the gums. In some cases, it can also affect the vocal cords. While leukoplakia is not cancerous, it is considered a precancerous condition because people with leukoplakia are at an increased risk of developing oral cancer.
The exact cause is unknown, but tobacco usage is a major risk factor. Cigarettes, cigars, and pipe tobacco can all contribute to it. In fact, one study found that three out of four tobacco users will develop leukoplakia at some point. Other potential causes include:
- Excessive alcohol consumption
- Oral infections
- Dental appliances that rub against the mucous membranes
- Certain medications
Leukoplakia generally does not cause any pain or other symptoms. In some cases, however, the patches can become irritated and bleed easily. In addition, you may notice one or more of the following symptoms:
- White patches on your tongue, gums, or inner cheeks
- Patches that cannot be scraped off
- Patches that are thick or crusty
- Patches that are raised above the surface of the mucous membrane
If you experience any of these symptoms, it's important to see a doctor or dentist right away. While it is not cancerous, it is considered a precancerous condition because people with leukoplakia are at an increased risk of developing oral cancer.
Hairy Leukoplakia frequently develops due to Epstein-Barr virus infection, which stays in the affected person's body forever. Although EBV is dormant, immune system weakness, especially HIV/AIDS, might cause it to become active. Hairy Leukoplakia may develop as a result of the virus reactivating.
Increased Risk Factors
Long-term alcohol consumption and tobacco use are risk factors. In addition, people with HIV/AIDS are more likely to develop hairy Leukoplakia.
Leukoplakia can usually be diagnosed during a regular dental exam. Your dentist will visually examine your mouth for any white patches or lesions. In some cases, a biopsy may be necessary to confirm the diagnosis. A small sample of tissue will be taken from the affected area and sent to a laboratory for analysis.
There is no cure and there is no effective medical treatment for the condition. In most cases, it will go away on its own without treatment. However, if your leukoplakia is caused by tobacco usage, it's important to quit smoking as soon as possible to reduce your risk of developing oral cancer.