Leukoplakia is a disorder of the mouth’s mucus membranes. White patches form on the tongue or inside of the mouth over weeks or months. This can also occur on the vulva in females, but for unknown reasons. One type, known as hairy leukoplakia, is a type found primarily in people who have
or other types of severe immune deficiency.
Hairy leukoplakia results from infection with the Epstein-Barr virus.
Leukoplakia usually results from irritants, such as:
cigarette smokingChewing tobacco or snuffRough teethRough places on dentures, fillings, or crowns
Leukoplakia is more common in men after 65 years of age. These other risk factors increase your chance of developing leukoplakia. Tell your doctor if you have any of these risk factors: Sex:
In women, the condition often develops into
Tobacco use, especially smokeless tobacco
Having a weakened immune system such as from HIV
Symptoms may include:
Lesion on the tongue or gums, inside of the cheeks, or on the vulva
White, gray, or red in colorThick, slightly raised, or hardened on the surfaceSensitivity to touch, heat, or spicy foodsPain or other signs of infectionWith hairy leukoplakia: painless and fuzzy, white appearance
In some cases, leukoplakia looks like
, which is an infection also associated with HIV/AIDS and lowered immune function.
Oral Thrush—Resembles Leukoplakia
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In most cases, a dentist can diagnose leukoplakia with a mouth exam. To confirm a diagnosis or to check for cancer, an oral brush biopsy may be needed. This involves removing some cells with a small brush. It takes only minutes and is painless. A pathologist then checks these cells for signs of cancer. Sometimes the dentist or oral surgeon uses a scalpel to remove cells after numbing the area.
Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Treatment options include: Removing the irritant—Quitting smoking or correcting dental problems often takes care of the problem.Removing patches—If the problem persists, or if signs of cancer are present, your dentist or doctor may need to remove patches of leukoplakia.Taking medication—For hairy leukoplakia, the doctor may prescribe antiviral medicines. Or, a solution to apply to the skin may be prescribed.
To help reduce your chance of getting leukoplakia, take the following steps:
If you smoke,
Avoid or limit your use of alcohol.See a dentist regularly, especially if you have rough places in your mouth.
Last reviewed September 2013 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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