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Leukoplakia is medical condition marked by distinct white patches that develop on the inner lining of the cheeks, gums, mouth, and the tongue. Similar patches can also appear on the genital area of females. The details will be explained in the following segment.

Symptoms of leukoplakia

The grayish white patch looks unusual, is clearly defined and can spread over an area. It’s painless and appears on the roof of the mouth, tongue, cheeks, lips, gums and often in the vulva. The mark may be irregular and thick in texture.

In some people, red lesions develop along with those characteristic white patches, which could be pre cancerous.

The white patches in hairy leukoplakia resemble oral thrush. They look fuzzy and therefore, termed as “hairy”.

What causes leukoplakia?

Leukoplakia is more common in men than in women. It mainly affects middle aged to elderly men (above 50 years of age)

Several bad habits and addiction can cause leukoplakia. They are:

  • Prolonged tobacco use,  chronic smoking, using pipes
  • Long term alcohol use
  • Irritation of gums and oral cavity due to inappropriate dentures, fillings, braces, etc.
  • Irritation inside oral cavity due to improper contour of teeth

Another form of leukoplakia, is known as hairy leukoplakia of the mouth, is mostly observed in HIV positive people. The infection is often caused by Epstein-Barr virus.

When to see a doctor?

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If you notice any of those aforementioned symptoms, then make sure you get it diagnosed. The symptoms won’t go away on rinsing or cleaning your mouth. They are persistent and require treatment.

Are there any complications of leukoplakia?

The patches could be precancerous. Although chances are less, leukoplakia can lead to oral cancer.

Hairy leukoplakia does not carry threat of oral cancer.

Diagnosis of leukoplakia

Leukoplakia is diagnosed by a dentist or an oral surgeon. He/she will physically examine the patches and check your lifestyle and habits to evaluate the cause. Let your doctor know if you are HIV positive.

A biopsy will be done wherein your doctor will collect a tissue sample from the surface of the patch and send it to laboratory for diagnosis. The area from which the sample is collected may be numbed to ease pain. This is primarily done to detect possibility of precancerous or cancerous growth.  

Treatment of leukoplakia

Treatment of leukoplakia primarily involves eliminating the underlying cause. If it has occurred due to ill fitting dental ornaments, then they will be fixed by your dentist. Irregularity in teeth will also be treated with appropriate dental techniques.

You need to get rid of your addictive habits like chewing tobacco, smoking and alcohol for quick healing of the white patches.

Lastly, if the patches still persist, then they need to be removed surgically by an oral surgeon. The surgery is done under local anaesthesia.

The treatment for hairy leukoplakia is different and antiviral drugs may be prescribed for eradicating them.

How long does it take for the lesions to disappear?

Once you have started making efforts to get rid of the source of irritation, the white patches clear away within a few weeks or months.

Leukoplakia can be completely cured. However, if you alter those unacceptable habits like chewing tobacco products or make an attempt to cut down on smoking and drinking, then you won’t probably suffer from leukoplakia.

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Written by: Saptakee sengupta
Date last updated: January 29, 2015