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What is Leukoplakia?

What is Leukoplakia?

Leukoplakia is a condition wherein a white patch appears on the tongue or on the inside of the cheek in the mouth. This article provides some information about this condition, its causes, symptoms, and treatment.
Poushali Ganguly
Last Updated: Feb 8, 2018
Leukoplakia is a disorder of the mouth, in which white patches are observed inside the mouth and on the tongue. The patches appear on the mucous membrane, gums, inside of the cheeks, and on the roof of the mouth. They form slowly over weeks to months and are thick, slightly raised, and may finally result in a hard and rough texture.
As they are quite thick, they cannot be scraped off easily. The diagnosis of this medical condition is one of exclusion as it is confirmed first that the white spots are not as a result of other diseases like lichen planus or candidiasis. This disorder is known to affect lesser than one percent of the population.
Causes
The causes of this disease are unknown, however, it is considered that it could occur as a result of chewing or smoking tobacco though there are times when the affected person would experience a certain irritation due to other reasons like the consumption of alcohol. It is considered that excessive consumption of tobacco and alcohol act as irritants to the mouth, thereby leading to this condition. There can be mechanical reasons as well that can act as a source of irritation like dentures and fillings, though they have rarely been considered as the potential causes.
Here is some information regarding the causes of this disorder:
  • Use of Tobacco - Tobacco is considered as a potential cause. This is because those affected by this medical condition were prescribed to quit smoking, and it was observed that the patches improved and in some cases they even disappeared within a year. Smokeless tobacco products would also affect one as the tobacco is held against the cheek or under the tongue, which is more harmful than smoking tobacco.
  • Bloodroot-This is the name of a flower which is also known to cause this medical condition.
  • People affected by AIDS or HIV also get affected by leukoplakia. At times, hairy leukoplakia may be the first symptom when associated with HIV or AIDS.
Symptoms
The primary symptom of this condition is the appearance of plaque that is generally on the gums or on the insides of the mouth. It can also be observed on the tongue of the affected person. Over a long period of time, the patches appeared would be white, thick, and rough and at times the surface of these patches would be hard. The symptoms of this medical condition and that of hairy leukoplakia are much the same.
Treatment
  • The primary treatment is to get rid of the source of irritation first. As mentioned above, for some people it is caused due to the consumption of tobacco or alcohol and once the consumption is discontinued, it is often noticed that there is an improvement in the condition of the affected person. However, in the case of progression of the condition to the later stages, the patches would have to be removed with the help of a surgery or cold probe that would kill the cells of cancer.
  • Once the patches are removed, the follow-up procedure is essential as there are positive chances of recurrence. Vitamin A is also effective in curing this disorder though at times the retinoids that are derivatives of Vitamin A can have side effects.
  • The medications such as antiviral famciclovir and valacyclovir stop the Epstein- Bar virus from replicating, although it does not eliminate the virus from the body completely. This treatment would hardly take a week or two, however, once the medication stops the symptoms could reoccur.
  • Since this disorder can also be due to rough teeth, fillings, or irregular dentures, the removal of these would lead to the elimination of the patches.
This medical condition is harmless and most of the time it can be cured, except for the signs and symptoms that are found to be associated with HIV or AIDS. On observation of the aforementioned symptoms, it is always better to consult the concerned doctor. It is also necessary that one completely refrains from smoking or chewing tobacco as well as from the consumption of alcohol, in order to avoid this disorder. Furthermore, one should increase the intake of fresh fruits and vegetables in their diet.
Disclaimer: This HealthHearty article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.