Presence of white colored thick Patches in gums, inner side of cheeks, bottom/floor of mouth or sometimes in tongue is called Leukoplakia. These white patches (leukoplakia) cannot be scrapped off. The cause of leukoplakia is not known, however, most doctors consider tobacco use (chewed, smoked or use in any other form) to be the main culprit in causing leukoplakia. It is usually not a dangerous problem, as these patches are generally benign in nature. However, there is some risk of some patches turning to cancerous form or early sign of cancer. It has been observed that many oral cancers (that occur in floor of mouth or below tongue) can occur areas close to leukoplakia patch. Hence, it is important to consult dentist if you notice leukoplakia in your mouth, especially if there is some change in it.
What are the symptoms of leukoplakia?
Leukoplakia generally occur in gums, inner side of cheeks, floor of the mouth and in tongue (less common). The color of leukoplakia patch is usually white or grey. The patches cannot be wiped off. The patches are thickened and irregular or flat textured. Sometimes the edges may be raised and red in color known as erythroplakia, which are prone to become precancerous and need immediate removal/management.
There is a different type of leukoplakia, called Hairy Leukoplakia, which has white, fuzzy patches that look like ridges or folds. Hairy leukoplakia is commonly seen in HIV/AIDS patients or individuals with weak immune system due to medications or some other reason. Hairy leukoplakia may be mistaken for oral thrush or oral candidiasis. Oral thrush is cause by candida (fungus) and the patches are creamy white color that can be wiped off, whereas white patches of leukoplakia cannot be wiped off. Like hairy leukoplakia, oral thrush is also common in individuals with weak immune system, such as HIV/AIDS patients.
What causes leukoplakia?
The exact cause of leukoplakia is not known. However, in most cases of leukoplakia there is close relation of this problem with tobacco use (chewing, smoking of use in other forms). It is seen that leukoplakia occurs in the area where smokeless tobacco user keep the tobacco product while enjoying it, such as area between inner side of cheek and teeth. Other irritants such as alcohol may also lead to leukoplakia.
Hairy leukoplakia occurs due to infection by EBV (epstein-barr virus). If you have EBV infection, it remains for life inside you, but usually dormant. If your immune system become weak due to any reason, EBV may become symptomatic and cause hairy leukoplakia and some other conditions. Individuals with weak immune system (due to HIV/AIDS, immune suppressant medications or other causes) have tendency to develop hairy leukoplakia.
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