It’s easy to feel confused or alarmed when you notice a sudden change in your oral health. If you’ve observed unusual white patches in your mouth, chances are, you’re experiencing leukoplakia. Leukoplakia is a condition in which white or gray patches appear in areas of your mouth due to excessive cell growth. It usually affects the tongue and inner cheeks, although you may also observe the patches on your gums, lips, and bottom or roof of your mouth.
Leukoplakia is mostly harmless. However, some types of leukoplakia signal more serious underlying conditions like oral cancer. Read on to learn more about symptoms to look out for, treatment options, and methods of preventing leukoplakia.
Symptoms of Leukoplakia
Since leukoplakia is painless, it can be difficult to detect. However, by looking out for specific signs of leukoplakia, you can seek appropriate treatment as early as possible. The most common symptom of leukoplakia is white or grey patches on your tongue, lips, and inner cheeks. If you wear dentures, you may also see the patches under them. Leukoplakia may also cause hair-like projections that accompany white patches; this is known as “hairy leukoplakia.”
If you have leukoplakia, the appearance of the white patches may vary depending on where they develop. In most cases, it can be difficult to see the beginning and end of the patches, but they may have clear borders. Other signs to watch out for include irregular or textured areas in your mouth, gray patches that won’t come off when you scrape at them, and red raised lesions (erythroplakia).
Although it may be harmless, some types of leukoplakia may signal cancer. Red lesions are early signs of oral health issues and are often pre-cancerous. Therefore, it is advisable to contact your dentist immediately you notice the symptoms.
Leukoplakia Risk Factors
There is no single cause for leukoplakia. However, smoking or using smokeless tobacco products increases your risk. Other contributing factors include injury to your inner cheeks or tongue from chipped teeth or broken dentures, inflammation, and prolonged alcohol use. Hairy leukoplakia, a variation of the condition, results from the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) that becomes active due to immune system problems like HIV.
Leukoplakia Treatment Options
Leukoplakia generally resolves on its own in about two weeks. If the patches linger for more than two weeks, it’s a good idea to visit your dentist so that they can assess your overall oral health and find the underlying cause. Your dentist will evaluate your entire mouth to rule out any serious oral health concerns and may recommend a biopsy to test patches of tissue affected by leukoplakia.
The results of the biopsy will determine your treatment plan. Leukoplakia treatment usually focuses on preventing the lesions from becoming cancerous. If you use tobacco or alcohol, your treatment may include counseling to help you limit or stop your use. Your dentist will also provide medications to clear the patches and prevent them from spreading. Persistent lesions may require surgical removal.
Tips for Preventing Leukoplakia
You can prevent leukoplakia by using the following tips.
- Avoid tobacco
- Minimize alcohol intake
- Eat a healthy diet, including plenty of fruits and vegetables
- Take Vitamin A and beta-carotene supplements
Leukoplakia can affect anyone, although it is more common in seniors. If you exhibit any of the symptoms, it is advisable to consult your dentist as soon as possible for better chances of successful treatment.