When there are thick and white patches that appear on your gums, inside of cheeks, or on tongue, it may be leukoplakia. It's usually not dangerous, but at times it can be serious. Most of these patches are benign but they can also serve as an early sign of the cancer of the mouth. Because of this, it's imperative to see the dentist or your doctor if you find persistent changes inside your mouth.
Leukoplakia takes on different forms. Sometimes, the changes would appear on the gums, sometimes you can find them on the tongue. They may be white or gray, irregular or flat-textured, or thickened or raised lesions.
There's a particular type of this condition which is known as hairy leukoplakia. This is common among people who have weakened immune system. Those who are suffering from HIV and AIDS are prone to this type of leukoplakia. It's called that way because it has fuzzy white patches that appear on the sides of the tongue.
The exact cause of this condition is not known but many experts agree that smoking, chewing, or dipping tobacco plays a role in its development. About 6 out of 8 users of tobacco develop this condition.
Other than this, long-term and excessive consumption of alcohol can also increase the risk of leukoplakia.
As for hairy leukoplakia, it's due to an infection from the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV). When you are infected with this virus, it remains in your body for life. The virus would become dormant but when your immune function weakens due to disease or medication, the virus becomes activated and can bring about this condition. This is why, people with HIV/AIDS are prone to hairy leukoplakia.
If you have white sores inside the mouth that do not heal on their own within a week up to 10 days, you need to see your dentist right away. Same is true if there are unusual white, red or dark patches or persistent changes in the tissues inside the mouth.
If you're using tobacco or consuming alcohol, your dentist will most likely ask you to stop. Doing so may be the only thing you need to do to clear the condition. If this doesn't work or if the lesions are possibly a sign of cancer, your dentist will refer you to treatment. Treatment would include removal of the patches using scalpel, laser or cryoprobe. Cryoprobe is a process that involves the use of cold probe to freeze and destroy the cancer cells.
Retinoids, which are vitamin A derivatives, have been studied as a form of treatment for this condition. This, however, has limited effect on the treatment of leukoplakia.
Other than this, you will also be advised to return for follow-up check-ups since recurrences are common among leukoplakia patients.
For hairy leukoplakia, treatment options include systemic medications and topical medications. The first one, systemic medications, include antiviral drugs that prevent the replication of the Epstein-Barr virus. This can clear the patches but the patches may return after you stop taking the medication. The second one, topical medications, involves the use of podophyllum resin solution and tretinoin (retinoic acid). These are applied topically to reduce the appearance of the patches. Similar to the first medication, recurrence may happen after medication is stopped.