Oral leukoplakia is a pre-cancerous condition affecting the delicate tissue inside the mouth. It is seen as white patches on the oral mucous membrane that can not be scraped off. The lesion is said to be of leukoplakia only after all the other possible lesions which have a similar appearance are ruled out. It is often associated with tobacco usage and if untreated has a potential to turn in to oral cancer. Leukoplakia can also be present other parts of lining membranes of the body, such as mucous membrane of gastrointestinal tract and urinary tract. However, it is when it occurs inside the mouth that it is more easily noticed. Although not a common condition, oral leukoplakia is more often seen in people over the age of 40 years and in seniors.
Oral leukoplakia is not the same as oral thrush (candidiasis). The latter is due to a fungal growth especially on the tongue and is more frequently seen in diabetics and people living with HIV. Oral thrush has a more yellowish white appearance and can be scraped off to some degree but does look very similar to oral leukoplakia. The most common sites for the oral leukoplakia lesions to develop are inner part of the lips, cheek mucous membrane, lip, tongue, palate and gums in the same order of frequency.
The exact cause of leukoplakia remains unknown but multiple factors are associated with its development. Some of the risk factors involved includes :
Cessation of the tobacco usage and alcohol consumption is the first step in treatment or oral leukoplakia. Further treatment depends upon the patient’s overall health and severity of the leukoplakia lesion. A biopsy of lesion is mandatory to determine its prognosis.
If the lesion fails to regress after initial line of treatment, surgical intervention is necessary. The white patch and its surrounding mucosa can be surgically excised to prevent the lesion from developing into oral cancer. Newer methods alternative to surgery are cryosurgery and laser to remove the lesion.