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Leukoplakia, causes, symptoms and treatments

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What is leukoplakia?

Leukoplakia is a condition in which white or gray patches develop inside the mouth. Patches generally show up on the tongue, on the floor of the mouth or inside the cheek. They generally develop in response to chronic irritation that happens to the mucus membranes of the mouth. In some cases, the patches may also show up on the female genital areas.


Leukoplakia is more common in senior adults. There is an unusual form of leukoplakia known as hairy leukoplakia. It is found in the case of people who are suffering from HIV, AIDS or AIDS related complex. In this case, fuzzy white patches are seen on the tongue.

Causes of leukoplakia

Different factors may cause leukoplakia. They include-

  • Irritation caused by the filling, rough teeth, ill fitting dentures or crowns by rubbing against the gum or cheek
  • Smoking, pipe smoking and other uses of tobacco
  • Oral cancer
  • Exposure of the lips to the sun
  • HIV or AIDS

Hairy leukoplakia

Hairy leukoplakia is caused by the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV). It remains in your body permanently. So, hairy leukoplakia may develop at any point of time. Such outbreaks are mostly seen in case of people having immune problems or HIV.

Symptoms of leukoplakia

If you find white or gray patches on the tongue, it may be a sign of leukoplakia. Such patches may also appear on the gums, roof of the mouth or inside of the cheeks. It may take several weeks or months before you notice the white and gray patches. They may become thick and raised and after some time may become hardened and rough. Even though it is painless but it may be very much sensitive to touch, spicy foods, heat and other such irritations.

Diagnosis of leukoplakia

Even though your dentist may suspect the possibility of leukoplakia, but a biopsy may be necessary to make sure it’s leukoplakia and not something else. During the biopsy, a small tissue from the lesion is removed and examined in a laboratory condition. In general, it is diagnosed with the help of an oral exam. Sometimes patients mistake it with the condition known as oral thrush. But the patches caused by oral thrush are generally softer than the patches of leukoplakia.

Treatment for leukoplakia

Treatment for leukoplakia focuses on removing the element that is causing the irritation. If the problem is caused by a rough tooth or a denture, then removing that cause helps in eliminating the problem. If the problem is caused by smoking, you will need to minimize or stop smoking and use of other tobacco products.

Leukoplakia generally does not cause any harm. The lesions that form after some time will automatically clear after a few weeks or months. That will happen only after removal of the irritation source. If removal of the source of irritation does not help you, the doctor may surgically remove the lesions. A general dentist or an oral surgeon can remove the lesions through surgery. In case of hairy leukoplakia, antiviral medicines may be necessary to treat the problem.

Prevention of leukoplakia

Leukoplakia can be prevented with just if you change your behavior.

Stop smoking

Stop using other tobacco products

Reduce alcohol consumption

Eat antioxidant rich foods. They are good for you because they can help you to deactivate the irritants causing patches. You should eat more spinach, pumpkin and carrots.

If you doubt you are having a leukoplakia attack, you should immediately see your dentist. Your dentist can help you by reducing the intensity of the attack before it gets worse. Since the possibility of recurrence is high, you need follow-up appointments with your dentist.


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