Leukoplakia is characterized by thick white patches on the inside of your cheeks and gums. It’s not always dangerous, but in some cases it’s an indication of oral cancer. While it’s most common in older adults, it can show up at any age.
Your oral health is important, so learn the signs of leukoplakia. When you notice symptoms in yourself or a loved one, call your dentist or oral surgeon.
What Is It?
Leukoplakia is a condition that involves the growth of white or gray patches inside your mouth — sometimes on the gums, the inside of your cheeks, the bottom of your mouth or on your tongue. It’s nearly impossible to scrape these patches away.
What Causes This Condition?
Smoking and chewing tobacco are the main causes of leukoplakia. In many cases, the condition isn’t serious. Leukoplakia patches can also be caused by an ill-fitting dental device, or by biting the inside of your cheek.
It may eventually go away without treatment. But in some cases, leukoplakia can indicate the early stages of mouth cancer.
What Will Your Doctor Look For?
Usually leukoplakia patches aren’t painful. Your doctor or oral surgeon will fully examine each area of your mouth, taking note of the size, thickness and placement of each patch. You may have confused leukoplakia with oral thrush, a yeast infection in the mouth. Oral thrush produces white patches as well, but they usually aren’t rough and thick. They also bleed very easily.
If the white patches are accompanied by patches of red as well, there is cause for concern regarding oral cancer. If your oral surgeon suspects a serious underlying condition, he or she will remove a small tissue sample and test it for abnormal cells.
What’s the Right Treatment?
If your oral surgeon took a tissue biopsy that tests positive for cancerous cells, the entire patch must be removed as soon as possible to limit spreading. A small-sized patch may be successfully removed with laser treatment, but larger-sized patches must be surgically removed.
If the patches are benign, your doctor will instruct you to cease behaviors that contribute to the growth of these patches — you must quit smoking. You’ll also be encouraged to reduce alcohol consumption and improve your diet by adding foods with antioxidants.
If the condition was caused by dentures or any other dental device that doesn’t quite fit right, talk to your dental care professional about having it adjusted to reduce injury to your mouth.
Even if it’s benign, a history of leukoplakia can raise your chances of oral cancer, so make sure you follow up with both your oral surgeon and dentist and get regular checkups to maintain oral health. If you suspect you may have leukoplakia, call Northeast Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery today for a professional assessment.