What is Leukoplakia?

March 2, 2016

Smoking is a nasty habit. It’s been shown time and time again that smoking can lead to lung cancer, emphysema, and cavalcade of other health issues. Outside of the serious health risks smoking can lead to various aesthetic issues including wrinkled skin, yellow teeth and leukoplakia.

Leukoplakia is a condition in which thickened white patches form on the inside of your cheeks, gums, and tongue. Leukoplakia is common among regular smokers. These patches can’t be scraped off.

While leukoplakia is, for the most part, harmless, it can sometimes be an indicator of early stage cancers.

Leukoplakia Symptoms

Leukoplakia is most prevalent in the gums of smokers and smokeless tobacco users. Leukoplakia may appear as

  • White or gray patches that can’t be wiped away
  • Bumpy or flat-textured
  • Thickened or hardened in some areas
  • In the company of red lesions, which are closely associated with mouth cancers

Hairy Leukoplakia

young woman smokingAdditionally, a type of leukoplakia called hairy leukoplakia is prevalent in individuals whose immune systems have been compromised by HIV/AIDS. Hairy leukoplakia is characterized by fuzzy white patches that resemble folds or ridges on the side your tongue. Hairy leukoplakia is often confused with oral thrush, an infection in which creamy white patches that can be wiped away form in the mouth. Oral thrush is another condition that is common among AIDS patients.

Leukoplakia Causes

Although the exact cause of Leukoplakia is still unknown evidence has shown that tobacco use, including smoking, chewing and vaping is directly related to the proliferation of leukoplakia. Leukoplakia is more prevalent in users of smokeless tobacco products like chew, dip or snus. Additionally, studies indicate that long-term alcohol use can contribute to leukoplakia.

As stated above, hairy leukoplakia is common in individuals with compromised immune systems. It is caused directly from the Epstein-Barr virus, once you have been infected with EBV it remains in the body forever. However, in most cases EBV remains dormant within its host.

If you believe that you are suffering from Leukoplakia or you have unexplained sores in your mouth we suggest that you set an appointment with our practice as soon as possible.

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