Leukoplakia is a disease that forms inside the mouth.
Read this lesson to learn about its causes, the symptoms that develop, and the treatment options once leukoplakia is diagnosed.
What is Leukoplakia?
Leukoplakia is a disease that develops in the mouth, and it’s most commonly found in seniors. Researchers are still trying to pinpoint its direct cause, but current suspicions are that tobacco use is to blame. The disease manifests itself as white patches found throughout the mouth. In fact, no part of the mouth is safe! These patches may form on the tongue, gums, roof, and cheeks.
Types of Leukoplakia
There are two primary forms of leukoplakia that can develop: standard and hairy. Standard leukoplakia is described throughout this lesson, but it’s important to note that hairy leukoplakia also exists.
Hairy leukoplakia forms as a result of the Epstein-Barr virus, also known as human herpesvirus 4. This type of leukoplakia is unusual, and you’ll usually see it in HIV/AIDS patients.
Causes of Leukoplakia
Scientists are still trying to figure out the exact causes of standard leukoplakia, but as of now, there are a few culprits under consideration. Possible causes include dental issues, like dental work or ill-fitting dentures, excessive alcohol use, too much sun exposure, or use of tobacco products – especially chewing tobacco, which sits directly on the mouth tissues for extended periods of time. In rare cases, leukoplakia may develop as a result of oral cancer.
Symptoms of Leukoplakia
As we already mentioned, the primary symptom of leukoplakia is the formation of thick, slightly raised, uneven, white patches inside the mouth. The time it takes you to develop these patches can vary from a few weeks to a few months.
These patches are not usually painful, though sometimes certain foods may cause aches or soreness, like acidic or spicy foods.Leukoplakia is usually non-cancerous, though sometimes it does lead to cancerous lesions. In this case, the patches in the mouth may also have raised, red sores.
Typically, leukoplakia is first noticed and diagnosed by a dentist; though occasionally a patient will visit the doctor to have the patches looked at. Usually a biopsy is conducted to confirm the diagnosis.In many patients, eliminating drinking and tobacco use will be enough for the leukoplakia to go away on its own.
If that doesn’t work, topical medications may be applied, or the patches can be surgically removed. This could be done either with a scalpel or by freezing the patches off. In any case, the patches may be reoccurring, so it’s best to monitor the situation over time.The treatment option is slightly different for hairy leukoplakia.
Since it is caused by a virus, an antiviral is given to treat symptoms.
Leukoplakia is a disease that develops in the mouth in the form of thickened, white patches. The exact causes of standard leukoplakia are still mostly unknown, though scientists believe tobacco use, drinking alcohol, and chronic irritation are likely culprits. Usually the patches are not painful, nor are they typically cancerous, though they can potentially turn into cancer over time. A dentist is most likely to notice these patches first, and a biopsy will be conducted to determine if leukoplakia is the cause. In most cases, eliminating alcohol and tobacco use will allow the leukoplakia to go away on its own; however, in some cases, a topical medication or surgical removal is necessary.
Hairy leukoplakia is caused by the Epstein-Barr virus, and antiviral medications are used to treat symptoms.Medical Disclaimer: The information on this site is for your information only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice.