Ask a Dentist

September 9, 2022

Q: What Is Leukoplakia?

Leukoplakia (cutaneous disease) diagnosis medical concept on tablet screen with stethoscope.

Leukoplakia appears as thick, white patches or lesions within your mouth - typically on gums and inside the cheek. These patches usually develop in the mouth of smokers or tobacco users.

Although leukoplakia isn’t dangerous, it could be an early sign of mouth cancer. Many cancers of the mouth occur next to areas of leukoplakia, so it’s always best to visit your dentist when you have unusual, persistent changes, discolourations or sores in your mouth.

Signs And Symptoms

The sores can vary in appearance. They may appear as:

  • White or greyish patches that can't be wiped or scraped off
  • Irregular or flat-textured areas
  • Thickened or hardened areas
  • Raised, red lesions (erythroplakia), which most likely indicate precancerous changes in the mouth

Oral Hairy Leukoplakia

Another form of leukoplakia, oral hairy leukoplakia, creates fuzzy white patches similar to oral thrush. Oral hairy leukoplakia results from an infection with the Epstein-Barr virus, which remains in the body for your lifetime. Although normally dormant, the virus can be activated (or reactivated) when your immune system is weakened, either from disease or certain medications.

People with HIV/AIDS are more likely to develop oral hairy leukoplakia. As many as 25 per cent of HIV-positive people are affected by oral hairy leukoplakia, according to Johns Hopkins. It may even be one of the first signs of HIV infection.

How To Prevent Leukoplakia

Oftentimes, you can prevent this condition by:

  • Avoiding tobacco use. Avoiding smoking or chewing tobacco is one of the best steps you can take for your overall health, as well as one of the main ways to prevent leukoplakia. Your doctor can go through ways to help you quit. If you use tobacco products frequently, get regular dental checkups to prevent any patches from suddenly appearing.
  • Avoiding or limiting alcohol use. Consuming large amounts of alcohol can make it easier for leukoplakia and oral cancers to emerge within the oral tissue found within the mouth.
  • Eating better. Include plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables into your diet. They’re rich in antioxidants such as beta-carotene, which reduce the risk of leukoplakia by deactivating harmful molecules before they can damage tissues. Foods rich in beta-carotene include green fruits and vegetables like cantaloupe, carrots, pumpkin, squash and spinach.

If you recognize any signs or symptoms of leukoplakia in your mouth, book an appointment with one of our dentists at Dental Image Therapy Centres so you can start getting treatment for the condition. We’re conveniently located at St. Vital Centre and Garden City Shopping Centre.

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