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Leukoplakia-TN-768x512Have you noticed white patches or spots on your tongue or on the inside of your cheeks? It may be leukoplakia, a condition in which white lesions form inside the mouth.

What is leukoplakia, what causes it, and how can you treat it? Here are answers to these questions and more.

What Is Leukoplakia?

Leukoplakia is a condition in which thick, white patches form inside the mouth, such as under your tongue, the inside of your cheeks, or even your lips. It differs from other causes of white patches, such as thrush since it’s usually caused by smoking.

Although mild leukoplakia can go away on its own, some cases may develop into cancer. According to the Cleveland Clinic, within 15 years, between 3% and 17% of the people with leukoplakia will develop squamous cell carcinoma, a type of skin cancer.

What Are the Types of Leukoplakia

There are two types of leukoplakia: homogenous and non-homogenous.

Homogenous leukoplakia can cause mostly white, evenly colored thin patches with a smooth, wrinkled, or ridged surface.

In the case of non-homogenous leukoplakia, the patches may be irregularly shaped and they may have red spots. They may be flat, nodular, or elevated. Non-homogenous leukoplakia is seven times more likely to evolve into cancer.

What Causes Leukoplakia?

Smoking is the main cause of leukoplakia. Chewing tobacco can also cause this condition. Other possible cause for leukoplakia may include:

  • Uneven teeth;
  • Injury from the inside of the mouth, such as biting;
  • Improperly fitted dentures;
  • Excessive alcohol consumption (although not all studies have established this link.)

Men between the ages of 50 and 70 years old tend to develop leukoplakia. Less than one percent of cases occur in people under the age of 30.

What Are the Symptoms of Leukoplakia

The most common symptoms of leukoplakia are thick, white patches inside your mouth that can not be linked to any other cause. They don’t cause any pain or discomfort, but some may evolve into cancer.

See your doctor immediately if you also notice white patches with red spots.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Leukoplakia is often confused with oral thrush, which is a yeast infection of the mouth. But, unlike the patches created by thrush, the leukoplakia ones can’t be wiped away. Your doctor will perform an oral exam to diagnose leukoplakia. They may require additional tests or even a biopsy if the patches look suspicious.

In most cases, leukoplakia will go away on its own and doesn’t require treatment. Just make sure to avoid any triggers, such as smoking. If the biopsy came positive for oral cancer, then the doctors will remove the patches immediately to stop cancer from spreading.

If you have questions or concerns about leukoplakia or oral cancer, contact OMSNashville to schedule a consultation.