Oral Leukoplakia (Smoker's Keratosis)

Oral Leukoplakia

What is leukoplakia? — Leukoplakia is a condition that causes white patches inside the mouth or on the tongue. These patches can be thick. They usually develop slowly over time.
Leukoplakia usually happens when something irritates the inside of the mouth, such as poorly fitting dentures or a rough spot on a tooth. Smoking and chewing tobacco and drinking alcohol are also common causes of leukoplakia. Leukoplakia can sometimes turn into mouth cancer after a few years, but this is uncommon.
A type of leukoplakia called "oral hairy leukoplakia" sometimes happens in people with HIV infection. This type of leukoplakia is caused by a virus.
Should I see a doctor or nurse? — Yes. If you have white patches on your tongue or in your mouth that don't go away, see your doctor or nurse.
Will I need tests? — Maybe. The doctor or nurse will talk with you and do an exam. He or she might also do a test called a "biopsy." For this test, the doctor will take a small sample of the gray or white patch. Then another doctor will look at the sample under a microscope.
How is leukoplakia treated? — The main treatment for leukoplakia is to avoid the things that cause it. If you smoke or use chewing tobacco, try to quit. Your doctor or nurse can help you if you are having trouble quitting. If you have poorly fitting dentures or a rough place on a tooth that is rubbing against your cheek, ask your dentist to fix the problem.
Many people don't need any other treatment for leukoplakia. But if your doctor or nurse thinks it might turn into mouth cancer, he or she might recommend surgery to remove the leukoplakia. If you get surgery, it's important to see your doctor or nurse regularly afterwards. They can check to see if the leukoplakia comes back. They can also check for any signs of mouth cancer, since in rare cases, leukoplakia can lead to cancer.
All topics are updated as new evidence becomes available and our peer review process is complete.
This topic retrieved from UpToDate on: Mar 30, 2020.
Topic 83680 Version 4.0
Release: 28.2.2 - C28.105
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