Leukoplakia is an oral disease where white or gray patches show up on or around the gums, inside of the cheeks, on the bottom of the mouth, and sometimes on the tongue. These patches are the mouth’s reaction to irritation of the sensitive mucous membranes in the mouth.
If you’ve seen these patches in your mouth, you should make an appointment with your dentist or doctor. They can help identify what’s causing it as well as help you treat it.
Outside of knowing that leukoplakia is the body’s reaction to irritation inside the mouth, there isn’t a specific cause that scientists have identified. However, there are some triggers that can make it more likely.
- Long-term tobacco usage (the most common trigger)
- Long-term alcohol usage
- Broken or ill-fitting dental appliances, fillings, or crowns
- Injury from jagged or broken teeth
- Underlying diseases like oral cancer or HIV/AIDS
White or gray colored patches on your gums or tongue, the inside of your cheeks, or bottom of your mouth are a sign of leukoplakia. These patches may be flat or irregularly textured, and can be thickened or hardened in some places. Leukoplakia isn’t usually painful, but it can be sensitive to touch, heat, irritation, and spicy or acidic foods. Unlike some other oral diseases, leukoplakia can’t be wiped or brushed away.
There is also a second kind of leukoplakia called “hairy leukoplakia.” In this variety, the patches are usually on the sides of the tongue and take on a fuzzy appearance.
In some cases, both types of leukoplakia are also accompanied by raised, red lesions, which can be a sign of other diseases.
The best way to treat leukoplakia is to remove the source of irritation that’s causing it, either by stopping or reducing tobacco and alcohol usage or fixing dental appliances. It’s a good idea to address these issues with the help of your dentist or doctor, since they may want to run tests to rule out underlying illnesses. You will definitely need to see them in the case of hairy leukoplakia since an antiviral medication is required. And though leukoplakia usually heals on its own, you may have to have oral surgery to remove the patches.