The mouth is a complex and delicate organ, and it's susceptible to a variety of diseases and conditions. Leukoplakia is one such condition, and it can cause severe problems if left untreated.
What is Leukoplakia?
Leukoplakia is a condition that's characterized by white patches, which develop inside the mouth. These patches can form on any part of the oral cavity: including your tongue and lips. While leukoplakia may be painless in its early stages, extensive lesions may cause discomfort or pain—especially if they begin to interfere with chewing and swallowing food.
These white spots aren't abnormal tissue growths; instead, they're caused by excess keratinization (the production of too much hard skin). Unfortunately, these cells don't shed as quickly as regular skin cells do —so over time, the buildup becomes thicker and more noticeable. However, this isn't always indicative of cancerous changes - many people don't know they have leukoplakia until a biopsy is done.
Leukoplakia vs. Thrush
It's important to note that leukoplakia is not thrush. Thrush is a yeast infection, and it will cause a different set of symptoms than leukoplakia. For example, thrush may produce creamy-white patches on your tongue or inside your cheeks, whereas leukoplakia usually has flat white spots.
Causes of Leukoplakia
One of the most common causes of leukoplakia is smoking. This may be due to chemicals in tobacco that irritate the mouth, cause inflammation and increase the risk of developing keratinization.
Other possible contributors include genetic predisposition (it runs in families), chronic irritation from ill-fitting dentures or chewing on sharp objects like pens, and a sexual preference (more specifically, oral sex). With this last one, it's believed that HPV—or human papillomavirus —may contribute to changes within your cells' nuclei which can eventually lead to cancer.
How is Leukoplakia Treated?
We will perform a physical examination and closely look at your mouth tissues. If they think that leukoplakia is present, they may order additional tests: like a scraping or biopsy of the affected area.
Once leukoplakia is confirmed, treatment will depend on its severity. In most cases, simply stopping whatever activity is irritating (like smoking) will help clear up the lesions. Other treatments include prescription medications or topical creams. Surgery is rarely necessary .
Not many people have heard of this condition, but it's pretty standard. It affects up to 40% of adults in the U.S.—and it doesn't discriminate based on age or sex . Thua, if you have questions, reach out to and we'll assist in any way we can.
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Dental Blog | Tania Tran, DMD - Grove Street Family Dentistry Dr. Tania Tran has provided this educational blog as a resource for the community. We hope that this blog will cover subjects you may be interested in. Call us! Grove Street Family Dentistry - Tania Tran, DMD, 1533 Grove Street, Marysville, WA 98270-4325 \ (360) 659-3200 \ grovestreetdentist.com \ 11/29/2023 \ Related Phrases: dentist \