Patient Guidelines During COVID-19

Are You at Risk for Leukoplakia?

Are You at Risk for Leukoplakia?

Oral cancer is not as common as periodontitis (gum disease) and tooth decay, but over 50,000 people deal with it annually, and most sufferers are men over 50. Among the oral conditions that can lead to oral cancer is leukoplakia, which is typified by white patches appearing on your gums, cheeks, and tongue. Most forms of leukoplakia are non-cancerous, but understanding the other symptoms that may lead to oral cancer can make a big difference in catching it early and getting proper treatment. Let’s look at what leukoplakia is, what types of the condition exist, and its causes and complications.

Patients in the Santa Maria, San Luis Obispo, Lompoc, and Bakersfield, California area dealing with symptoms of leukoplakia and other oral problems can get help from the extensive medical team at CaliDental. Our board-certified family cosmetic and medical dental practice use the latest technologies to offer you the best results for your dental needs.

Understanding leukoplakia

This is generally a mild condition where thick grayish or white patches appear inside your mouth and other parts of your body with mucosal tissue (areas where mucous membrane lines body cavities and internal organs). No one quite knows the exact cause, but tobacco use is a commonly known risk factor in experiencing the condition. It is often harmless, but it may also be accompanied by other symptoms indicating the early signs of cancer.

Types of leukoplakia

There are two common types of leukoplakia:

Homogenous

This form appears as white, evenly colored thin patches with consistent surfaces that are either ridged, wrinkled, or smooth.

Non-homogenous

White, red-white irregular patches can be flat, have protrusions, speckled, or ulcerated. This type is seven times more likely to be cancerous.

Other forms of this condition include proliferative verrucous leukoplakia (PVL, also called florid papillomatosis), which is rare but aggressive and is strongly associated with patients dealing with the Epstein-Barr virus, a type of herpes. Oral hairy leukoplakia may also result from the Epstein-Barr virus but can strike people with weakened immune systems, such as HIV/AIDS patients.

Causes and complications

This condition is often associated with tobacco use, such as heavy smoking, chewing tobacco, or snuff, but other factors can increase the risk of getting this precancerous condition. Long-term alcohol abuse, injury to the inside of your cheek (such as from biting), rough, uneven teeth, improperly fitted dentures, and various inflammatory conditions can all increase the risk of getting leukoplakia.

Some research indicates that patches on the floor of the mouth and the sides or underside of the tongue are possible indicators of cancer, but the nodules, pebbled white or red masses, increased firmness, and bleeding are all stronger indicators of oral cancer (squamous cell carcinoma). 

Getting regular oral cancer screenings is crucial to catch any cancer early, especially if you show signs of conditions like leukoplakia. If you notice any symptoms similar to this, make an appointment with the medical team at CaliDental today to get screened and be safe.

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