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Dental Health and Leukoplakia

Leukoplakia is a white or gray patch that develops on the tongue, the inside of the cheek, or on the floor of the mouth. It is the mouth's reaction to chronic irritation of the mucous membranes of the mouth. Leukoplakia patches can also develop on the female genital area; however, the cause of this is unknown.

Leukoplakia patches can occur at any time in your life, but it is most common in senior adults.

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"Hairy" leukoplakia of the mouth is an unusual form of leukoplakia (caused by the Epstein-Barr virus) that is seen only in people who are infected with HIV, have AIDS, or AIDS-related complex. It consists of fuzzy, white patches on the tongue (hence, its name) and less frequently, elsewhere in the mouth. It may resemble thrush, an infection caused by the fungus Candida which, in adults, usually occurs if your immune system is not working properly. Thrush may be one of the first signs of infection with the HIV virus.

What Causes Leukoplakia?

Causes of leukoplakia can include:

  • Irritation from rough teeth, fillings, or crowns, or ill-fitting dentures that rub against your cheek or gum
  • Chronic smoking, pipe smoking, or other tobacco use
  • Sun exposure to the lips
  • Oral cancer (although rare)
  • HIV or AIDS

What Are the Symptoms of Leukoplakia?

The presence of white or gray colored patches on your tongue, gums, roof of your mouth, or the inside of the cheeks of your mouth may be a sign of leukoplakia. The patch may have developed slowly over weeks to months and be thick, slightly raised, and may eventually take on a hardened and rough texture. It usually is painless, but may be sensitive to touch, heat, spicy foods, or other irritation.

How Is Leukoplakia Diagnosed?

Your dentist may suspect leukoplakia upon examination; however, a biopsy will likely be taken to rule out other causes, such as oral cancer. During the biopsy, a small piece of tissue from the lesion will be removed to be examined in a lab. A numbing agent will be used so that you will not feel any pain.

What Is the Treatment for Leukoplakia?

Treatment for leukoplakia, if needed, involves removing the source of irritation. For example, if leukoplakia is caused by a rough tooth or an irregular surface on a denture or a filling, the tooth will be smoothed and dental appliances repaired. If leukoplakia is caused by smoking, you will be asked to minimize or stop smoking or using other tobacco products.

Leukoplakia is usually harmless, and lesions usually clear in a few weeks or months after the source of irritation is removed. If eliminating the source of irritation is ineffective in reducing leukoplakia, the lesion may need to be surgically removed. The lesion can be removed either by your general dentist or by an oral surgeon.

Hairy leukoplakia requires treatment with an antiviral medication.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Steve Drescher, DDS on March 22, 2013
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How Do I Measure Up? Get the Facts Fast!

Number of Days Per Week I Floss

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Only 18.5% of Americans never floss. You are missing out on a simple way to make a big difference in the health of your mouth. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Floss removes food trapped between the teeth and removes the film of bacteria that forms there before it turns to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Try flossing just one tooth to get started.

You are one of 31% of Americans who don't floss daily. You are missing out on a simple way to make a big difference in the health of your mouth. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Aim for 3 more days!

You are one of 31% of Americans who don't floss daily, but you're well on your way to making a positive impact on your teeth and gums. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Aim for all 7 days!

Only 50.5% of Americans floss daily, and good for you that you are one of them! Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Congratulations on your good oral health habit!

SOURCES:

American Dental Association, Healthy People 2010

This tool is intended only for adults 18 and older.

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