When you visit the dentist, you may think that your teeth are the only things being examined, but your gums and tongue are also very important and can tell the dentist a lot about your overall health. For example, leukoplakia, which are thickened white patches found on the gums, inside of the cheeks or the tongue, can be an indicator of a something more serious.
What Is Leukoplakia?
Leukoplakia are thickened, white or grayish patches that can’t be scraped off. They may be irregular or flat-textured, as well as thickened or hardened in areas.
A leukoplakia patch may develop slowly over weeks or months and may have a hardened or rough texture. While it is usually painless, it may be sensitive to touch or such things as heat or spicy foods.
What Causes Leukoplakia?
Leukoplakia can be caused by something as benign as ill-fitting dentures or rough teeth, fillings or crowns. Leukoplakia can also be caused by chronic smoking or other smokeless tobacco usage, long-term alcohol use, sun exposure to the lips, oral cancer, or HIV or AIDS.
White areas mixed in with red areas (speckled leukoplakia) can be an indication of oral cancer. In addition, “hairy” leukoplakia, which resembles thrush and consists of fuzzy, white patches on the tongue caused by the Epstein-Barr virus, is an indication of HIV infection, AIDS or AIDS-related complex.
Talking to Your Dentist
If you have the symptoms of leukoplakia, make a dental appointment. Leukoplakia can be removed using a scalpel or a laser, or it can be frozen off.
Your dentist may also perform a biopsy, where a small piece of tissue will be removed from the lesion and examined in the lab. This will help rule out oral cancer. An excisional biopsy may also remove the patch altogether. To remove a large patch, you may be referred to an oral surgeon or ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist.
It is best to treat and remove leukoplakia when it is still a small lesion. Leukoplakia will probably not cause permanent damage to your mouth tissues; however, it does increase your risk for oral cancer.
Treating and Preventing Leukoplakia
If leukoplakia is caused by a rough dental appliance, tooth or filling, your dentist will smooth out the cause of the problem or repair the dental appliance. If it is caused by smoking, chewing tobacco or alcohol, your dentist will recommend that you stop these habits in order to improve conditions in the mouth.
Once you have had leukoplakia, the condition is likely to occur. Thus, it is important to have regular dental check-ups and talk with your dentist about your experiences. For more information or to schedule a dental check-up, visit Enlighten Dental Care’s website or call (336) 765-0904.