Spotting a new white or gray patch inside of the mouth can be a disturbing find. Is it cancer? Is it treatable? We always encourage our patients to get in touch with us if they see changes in their oral health or if they develop any patches or spots that don’t go away.
Leukoplakia is a common cause of white patches in the mouth. It is common and usually harmless but can indicate an increased risk for some cancers. A quick check can help us determine if the changes are anything to worry about and ensures that you receive prompt treatment if it is needed.
What Is Leukoplakia?
Leukoplakia is the mouth’s reaction to long-term irritation. It manifests as a white or gray patch and can occur almost anywhere in the mouth, including the cheek, tongue, or roof/floor of the mouth. Leukoplakia can occur at any age, but we see it most commonly in older adults. Hairy leukoplakia, a type of leukoplakia that creates white patches with a fuzzy appearance is only seen in patients with HIV or AIDS.
Common causes of leukoplakia include:
- Irritation from rough teeth or fillings, poorly fitting dentures, etc.
- Smoking or chewing tobacco use
- Sun exposure
- HIV or AIDS
- Oral cancer
Leukoplakia is typically painless, but some patients experience sensitivity in the area. The patches often develop slowly, over a period of weeks or months. They may be flat or raised, smooth or slightly rough.
How Is Leukoplakia Diagnosed?
If you develop an unknown white patch inside of the mouth, come see us, even if you think it is leukoplakia. An examination is needed to rule out the possibility of oral cancer. Come see us, and we’ll help you figure out what’s going on and how to best treat it. Leukoplakia can be a sign of a larger problem.
How Is Leukoplakia Treated?
Before we can treat leukoplakia, we need to find and address the source of the irritation. A rough tooth may be smoothed, a damaged filling repaired, or poorly fitting dentures replaced. Some patients address denture fit issues with dental implants. If the leukoplakia is caused by tobacco use, we will recommend that you minimize or stop using these products.
Removing the source of the irritation will often cause the lesions to go away. This can take time, often a couple of months. In some cases, the patches are removed with surgery. We’ll help you determine the best course of treatment for your leukoplakia.
Keep an Eye on Your Oral Health
When was the last time you looked inside your mouth? We recommend a monthly self-examination of the mouth to look for changes and signs of oral cancers. Changes in the mouth can be indicative of changes in your overall health. Don’t ignore lumps or sores. Come in and let us help.
If you have white patches in your mouth, call Hill Country Oral Surgery at 512-327-7233 to schedule an oral cancer screening in Austin, TX.