Oral leukoplakia is a condition where thick, white patches form in the mouth. The patches may be on the gums, tongue, or inner cheeks. Sometimes it can turn into cancer.
There are several types. Hairy leukoplakia is found in people with weak immune systems.
The exact cause is not known. This problem is often linked to long term irritation in the mouth. This may cause the cells to change and grow.
The condition may also be linked to certain viruses.
Oral leukoplakia is more common in men after age 65. Other things that raise the risk are:
Symptoms of oral leukoplakia are patches on the tongue, gums, or inside the cheeks. They form over weeks or months. Patches may be:
There may be pain or signs of infection.
Hairy leukoplakia also has fuzzy white patches. They tend to be on the side of the tongue.
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and health history. A physical exam will be done. The doctor will examine the mouth. Most times, this is enough to make the diagnosis.
The doctor may also do a brush biopsy. Some cells will be taken from the mouth with a small brush. The cells will be tested. This is done to look for cancer or infections.
Treatment options are:
The risk may be lowered by:
Mouth Healthy—American Dental Association
National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research
Canadian Dental Association
Dental Hygiene Canada
Hairy leukoplakia. DermNet NZ website. Available at: http://dermnetnz.org/site-age-specific/hairy-leukoplakia.html. Accessed February 19, 2021.
Head and neck cancer. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/head-and-neck-cancer. Accessed February 19, 2021.
Leukoplakia. American Osteopathic College of Dermatology website. Available at: http://www.aocd.org/?page=Leukoplakia. Accessed February 19, 2021.
Leukoplakia. NHS choices website. Available at: http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Leukoplakia/Pages/Introduction.aspx. Updated January 15, 2015. Accessed February 19, 2021.
Oral leukoplakia. DermNet NZ website. Available at: http://dermnetnz.org/site-age-specific/oral-leukoplakia.html. Accessed February 19, 2021.
Villa A, Sonis S. Oral leukoplakia remains a challenging condition. Oral Dis. 2018;24(1-2):179-183.
Last reviewed January 2021 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Mary Beth Seymour, RN Last Updated: 2/19/2021