The presence of white or grey patches within the mouth can be alarming, and it is important that these abnormalities are identified early to rule out any underlying issues in need of attention. Leukoplakia is a relatively rare oral condition that is most common amongst smokers, and it is characterised by the development of white or grey coloured patches on the tongue, inside the cheeks, on the gums or at the bottom of the mouth. Whilst mild cases can often resolve of their own accord, moderate to severe cases of leukoplakia should be treated seriously as this may be an early sign of oral cancer. Here’s everything you need to know about leukoplakia; including its causes, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment options.
What is leukoplakia?
Leukoplakia is an oral health condition, and it refers to the presence of white or gray coloured patches within any area of the mouth. People of all ages can be affected by this condition, but adults with a history of heavy alcohol or tobacco use are most affected. Most cases of leukoplakia are benign, with no immediate cause for concern. Nonetheless, it can be a precursor to oral cancer, and therefore you should seek a professional diagnosis as early as possible.
Causes and Risk Factors
There are a number of risk factors which can lead to the development of leukoplakia. Tobacco use is a leading risk factor, however other potential causes include:
- Alcohol Consumption – Heavy drinkers are at an increased risk of developing leukoplakia. The effect is multiplied when combined with tobacco use.
- Mouth Irritation – Sores may develop within the mouth due to the presence of ill-fitting dentures, friction or a rough tooth surface rubbing against soft tissues.
- Human Papillomavirus (HPV) – Some evidence suggests that specific strains of HPV may be linked to oral leukoplakia.
- Poor Oral Hygiene – Failing to maintain a good oral hygiene routine may contribute to the development of leukoplakia.
Symptoms to Watch Out For
It’s easy to dismiss the symptoms of leukoplakia, and in many cases people do not notice symptoms at all. Despite most cases of leukoplakia being painless, you should be mindful of any changes within the mouth including:
- White or Grey Patches/Spots – May occur anywhere within the mouth including the cheeks, gums, tongue and roof/floor of the mouth. Patches can vary in shape and texture.
- Irregular Borders – The outer edges of luekoplakia patches are often uneven or irregular in form.
- Persistent Lesions – Mild cases of leukoplakia usually clear up within a couple of weeks. If you notice persistent lesions which fail to heal, you should consult your dentist immediately.
Diagnosis of Leukoplakia
Upon presentation at Sydney Park Dental, your dentist will examine your mouth and perform a thorough examination. This will include a discussion of your medical history and personal habits, where you should disclose any current or past use of tobacco and/or alcohol.
The physical examination will involve a visual inspection of white/grey patches within the mouth, and a sample may be taken for biopsy. This will involve the sample being analysed under a microscope to determine whether the cells are cancerous or precancerous.
Leukoplakia does not always require immediate treatment. Depending on the severity and potential for malignancy, your dentist may opt for one of the following approaches:
Tobacco and Alcohol Cessation: Avoiding alcohol and tobacco may prevent further progression and recurrence.
Monitoring: Small patches which show no signs of change will be monitored during regular check-ups. This will ensure they don’t develop into something more serious.
Removal: Surgical removal is usually only required for large or concerning patches.
Regular Follow-Ups: Regular follow up appointments are important for all patients with leukoplakia. This allows the opportunity to monitor the healing process and detect any potential recurrence.
Worried about Leukoplakia? Book an Appointment Today
Leukoplakia can be concerning, and the best way to reduce your risk of oral cancer is by eliminating tobacco use, reducing alcohol consumption, and improving nutrition. If you are concerned about signs of leukoplakia within your mouth, please don’t hesitate to book an appointment at Sydney Park Dental today.