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Leukoplakia is a white or gray patch that develops on the tongue or the inside of the cheek. It is the mouth's reaction to chronic irritation of the mucous membranes of the mouth. Leukoplakia patches can also develop on the female genital area; however, the cause of this is unknown.
The growth can occur at any time in your life, but it is most common in the elderly.
"Hairy" leukoplakia of the mouth is an unusual form of leukoplakia that is seen only in people who are infected with HIV, have AIDS, or AIDS-related complex. It consists of fuzzy, hence the name "hairy," white patches on the tongue and less frequently elsewhere in the mouth. It may resemble thrush, an infection caused by the fungus Candida which, in adults, usually occurs if your immune system is not working properly, and may be one of the first signs of infection with the HIV virus.
What Causes Leukoplakia?
What Are the Symptoms?
The presence of white or gray colored patches on your tongue, gums, roof of your mouth, or the inside of the cheeks of your mouth may be a sign of leukoplakia. The patch may have developed slowly over weeks to months and be thick, slightly raised, and may eventually take on a hardened and rough texture. It usually is painless, but may be sensitive to touch, heat, spicy foods, or other irritation.
How Is Leukoplakia Diagnosed?
Your dentist may suspect leukoplakia upon examination; however, a biopsy will likely be taken to rule out other causes, such as oral cancer. During the biopsy, a small piece of tissue from the lesion will be removed to be examined in a lab. A numbing agent will be used so that you will not feel any pain.
How Is Leukoplakia Treated?
Treatment, if needed, involves removing the source of irritation. For example, if leukoplakia is caused by a rough tooth or an irregular surface on a denture or filling the tooth will be smoothed and dental appliances repaired. If leukoplakia is caused by smoking, you will be asked to minimize or stop smoking or using other tobacco products.
Leukoplakia is usually harmless, and lesions usually clear in a few weeks or months after the source of irritation is removed. If eliminating the source of irritation is ineffective in reducing leukoplakia, the lesion may need to be surgically removed. The lesion can be removed either by your general dentist or by an oral surgeon in their office under local anesthesia.
Hairy leukoplakia requires treatment with an antiviral medication.
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Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) causes HIV infection and the acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). Symptoms and signs of HIV infection include fatigue, enlarged lymph glands, and recurrent vaginal yeast infections. Highly active antiretroviral therapy (ART) is the standard treatment for HIV infection.
Oral CancerThe term oral cancer includes cancer of the mouth (oral cavity) and the back of the mouth (oropharynx). Red and white patches inside the mouth, bleeding, loose teeth, pain upon swallowing, a lump in the neck, earache, and a sore on your lip or in your mouth that won't heal are all symptoms of oral cancer. Treatment for oral cancer depends upon the staging of the disease and usually involves surgery, radiation therapy, or chemotherapy.
Smoking and Quitting SmokingSmoking is an addiction. More than 430,000 deaths occur each year in the U.S. from smoking related illnesses. Secondhand smoke or "passive smoke" also harm family members, coworkers, and others around smokers. There are a number of techniques available to assist people who want to quit smoking.
Tongue ProblemsThere are a variety of diseases and conditions that can cause tongue problems, discoloration, and soreness. Though most tongue problems are not serious. Conditions such as leukoplakia, oral thrush, and oral lichen planus may cause a white tongue while Kawasaki syndrome, scarlet fever, and geographic tongue may cause the tongue to appear red. A black hairy tongue may be caused by overgrown papillae on the tongue. Canker sores, smoking, and trauma may cause soreness of the tongue.
Top Mouth ProblemsLearn about some of the most common problems in your mouth such as sores, oral cancer, TMJ, painful gums, bad breath and more.