Leukoplakia: What You Need to Know About this Dental Condition

Posted on: 20 October 2016


If you have noticed any white or grey patches on your tongue or the inside of your cheeks, you may be suffering from leukoplakia. Although these patches are painless, the condition can be a sign of other more serious problems. Below is a guide to commonly asked questions about leukoplakia.

What is leukoplakia?

Leukoplakia is caused by an abnormal growth of keratin within your mouth. This light-coloured growth will feel rigid and rough when you run your tongue over it. Keratin is a protein that is found in your fingernails and hair. It normally develops in the mouth in response to irritation of the soft tissue. Leukoplakia will often resolve itself after a short time. If it does not, you should book an appointment with your dentist.

How is leukoplakia diagnosed?

Your dentist will perform an examination of your mouth to rule out any other possible causes of the discolouration, such as thrush or vitamin deficiency. Your dentist will take a biopsy of the affected area by removing a very small amount of the affected tissue. This will be done under a local anaesthetic to prevent any pain or discomfort. Testing will be carried out on this sample in order to diagnose the cause of the problem.

What are the possible causes of leukoplakia?

Leukoplakia is normally caused by prolonged irritation of the soft tissues in your mouth. Possible sources of irritation are the following:

  • Excessive Alcohol: Drinking to excess can cause irritation to the mucous membranes in your mouth and can also lead to constant dehydration, both of which can trigger leukoplakia.
  • Smoking: Tobacco smoke can cause irritation to your tongue and gums, leading to the development of leukoplakia.
  • Excessive sunlight: If you have been out in the sun without wearing sunscreen for an extended period of time, the UV rays may trigger an outbreak of leukoplakia on your lips.
  • Misaligned jaw or teeth: If your jaw or teeth are misaligned, it may cause your teeth to rub against the soft tissues in your mouth.
  • Oral cancer: Though this is extremely rare, leukoplakia can be an early warning sign of oral cancer.
  • HIV/AIDS: Leukoplakia can also be a caused as a result of the HIV/AIDS virus. This is an exceptionally rare cause of leukoplakia.

If you have any concerns about your dental health, contact a dentist today. They will be able to perform a full assessment of your oral health before carrying out any necessary treatment.