Oral Leukoplakia

Oral leukoplakia is a condition in which gray or white patch develops on the tongue, floor of the mouth or inside of the cheek. It is the reaction of the mouth to chronic irritation of the mucus membrane. These leukoplakia patches arise any time of the life, and are more common in the elderly.

Hairy leukoplakia is an atypical form of leukoplakia, usually caused by the Epstein Barr virus, observed in HIV affected people. It appears like thrush and is one of the primary signs of HIV infection.

Causes of Oral Leukoplakia

Causes of leukoplakia include:

  • Tobacco use, including smoking and chewing smokeless products
  • Irritation from crowns, fillings, rough teeth and improper fitted dentures which rub against the tongue and cheek
  • Prolonged exposure to sun’s radiations
  • Oral cancer, a rarer cause
  • HIV/AIDS

Symptoms of Oral Leukoplakia

Leukoplakia has several appearances. It may appear as:

  • Gray or white patches which cannot be wiped off so easily
  • Flat textured or irregular areas
  • Hardened or thickened areas
  • Raised, red patches

Another form of leukoplakia, known as hairy leukoplakia usually affects people with weakened immune system who develop from disease or medications.  It appears fuzzy, white lesions which resemble ridges or folds on the sides of the tongue.

Leukoplakia is painless and is very sensitive to touch, spicy or hot foods or any other irritation.

Treatment for Oral Leukoplakia

Treatment for oral leukoplakia involves eliminating the irritation source. For instance, if the cause is rough teeth or improper fitting dentures or fillings, treatment aims at smoothing the rough surfaces and repairing the dental appliances. If the cause is tobacco use, then you will be suggested to stop or minimize the tobacco products and smoking.

Leukoplakia usually clears within few weeks to months, after the cause is eliminated. If eliminating the source will not show any change, the dentist may suggest you a treatment which can include removal of patches –

  • Using a scalpel
  • Using a laser
  • Using a cold probe that freezes the patch and destroys it (cryoprobe)

Treatment for hairy leukoplakia involves antiviral medications and topical medications.

Care / Prevention of Oral Leukoplakia

Eliminating the causes can only prevent leukoplakia or its recurrence. The preventive measures include:

Quit tobacco products – This is one of the major ways to prevent oral leukoplakia. Avoiding tobacco use and smoking will help you to lessen the chance of leukoplakia.

Limit or quit alcohol – Alcohol is also a contributing factor for leukoplakia. When both alcohol and smoking are combined, it makes much easier for these harmful chemicals to penetrate the tissue and cause patches.

Consume good amount of fruits and vegetables – Fresh fruits and vegetables contain beta carotene that will help in lowering the risk of leukoplakia, by alleviating harmful oxygen molecules involved in damaging the mouth tissues. Beta carotene rich foods include orange and dark colored fruits and vegetables like  green leafy vegetables, pumpkin, carrots, cantaloupe, spinach and squash.