Leukoplakia is a white patch-like lesion that develops on the mucous membranes within the mouth in response to chronic irritation. The lesions occur primarily on the tongue and the inside of the cheek, but also occur frequently on the inner or outer surface of the lips and the floor of the mouth. However, any oral site may be affected. The lesions associated with leukoplakia are white or gray, slightly raised, and can be either rough or smooth. They often have a corrugated or fissured appearance, caused by abnormal thickening of the outer layer of the mouth's lining (the epithelium). These lesions are painless, yet are pre-cancerous in approximately 15 percent of the cases, and for this reason should never be ignored.

Use of tobacco (especially pipe and smokeless tobacco) and alcohol, chronic lip or cheek biting, ill-fitting dentures, and poor oral hygiene are primary irritants that can cause leukoplakia. However, local infections such as herpes, systemic disease, environmental toxins and malnutrition have also been shown to be factors that contribute to the incidence of leukoplakia. Occasionally, there is no obvious cause.

Leukoplakia occurs most frequently in men over 40. However, with the increased use of smokeless tobacco (snuff) among teenagers and young adults, the incidence of leukoplakia is increasing among this group as well. The affects that the irritants have on the lining of the mouth can vary significantly between individuals; some can endure a great deal of irritation with minimal change in the tissues, while others experience significant tissue change with only moderate irritation.

Biopsy (microscopic examination of a tissue sample) is a must for all leukoplakias in order to make an accurate diagnosis. The microscopic changes can range from no dysplasia (abnormal tissue growth) to mild, moderate, or severe dysplasia. Occasionally, there may be cancerous changes present in the tissues; only microscopic examination via a biopsy can distinguish these changes.

For your dental health. We will thoroughly examine your mouth for sources of irritation, such as rough teeth, irregular surfaces on dentures or restorations, or sharp wires on braces. We will treat any such dental cause for the irritation as soon as possible.

* If you smoke or use smokeless tobacco, you should stop immediately.

*We will work with you to determine if you have any habits, such as lip or cheek biting, which may be causing the lesions.

* If removing the source of the irritation doesn't eliminate the lesions, we can remove them surgically under local anesthesia.