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GENERAL DENTISTRY

 

Leukoplakia

Leukoplakia is a white or gray patch that develops on the tongue or the inside of the cheek. It is the mouth's reaction to chronic irritation of the mucous membranes of the mouth. Leukoplakia patches can also develop on the female genital area; however, the cause of this is unknown.

The growth can occur at any time in your life, but it is most common in the elderly.

"Hairy" leukoplakia of the mouth is an unusual form of leukoplakia that is seen only in people who are infected with HIV, have AIDS, or AIDS-related complex. It consists of fuzzy, hence the name "hairy," white patches on the tongue and less frequently elsewhere in the mouth. It may resemble thrush, an infection caused by the fungus Candida which, in adults, usually occurs if your immune system is not working properly, and may be one of the first signs of infection with the HIV virus.

What Causes Leukoplakia?


Irritation from rough teeth, fillings, or crowns, or ill-fitting dentures that rub against your cheek or gum
Chronic smoking, pipe smoking, or other tobacco use
Sun exposure to the lips
Oral cancer, although rare
HIV or AIDS

What Are the Symptoms?

The presence of white or gray colored patches on your tongue, gums, roof of your mouth, or the inside of the cheeks of your mouth may be a sign of leukoplakia. The patch may have developed slowly over weeks to months and be thick, slightly raised, and may eventually take on a hardened and rough texture. It usually is painless, but may be sensitive to touch, heat, spicy foods, or other irritation.

How Is Leukoplakia Diagnosed?

Your dentist may suspect leukoplakia upon examination; however, a biopsy will likely be taken to rule out other causes, such as oral cancer. During the biopsy, a small piece of tissue from the lesion will be removed to be examined in a lab. A numbing agent will be used so that you will not feel any pain.

How Is Leukoplakia Treated?

Treatment, if needed, involves removing the source of irritation. For example, if leukoplakia is caused by a rough tooth or an irregular surface on a denture or filling the tooth will be smoothed and dental appliances repaired. If leukoplakia is caused by smoking, you will be asked to minimize or stop smoking or using other tobacco products.

Leukoplakia is usually harmless, and lesions usually clear in a few weeks or months after the source of irritation is removed. If eliminating the source of irritation is ineffective in reducing leukoplakia, the lesion may need to be surgically removed. The lesion can be removed either by your general dentist or by an oral surgeon in their office under local anesthesia.

Hairy leukoplakia requires treatment with an antiviral medication.

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ORAL CANCER

The Importance of Early Detection

Your dentist has recent good news about progress against cancer. It is now easier than ever to detect oral cancer early, when the opportunity for a cure is great. Currently only half of all patients diagnosed with oral cancer survive more than five years.

Your dentist has the skills and tools to ensure that early signs of cancer and pre-cancerous conditions are identified. You and your dentist can fight and win the battle against oral cancer. Know the early signs and see your dentist regularly.

You Should Know

Oral Cancer often starts as a tiny, unnoticed white or red spot or sore anywhere in the mouth.
It can affect any area of the oral cavity including the lips, gum tissue, check lining, tongue and the hard or soft palate.
Other signs include:

- A sore that bleeds easily or does not heal

- A color change of the oral tissues

- A lump, thickening, rough spot, crust or small eroded area

- Pain, tenderness, or numbness anywhere in the mouth or on the lips

- Difficulty chewing, swallowing, speaking or moving the jaw or tongue.

- A change in the way the teeth fit together

- Oral Cancer most often occurs in those who use tobacco in any form.

- Alcohol use combined with smoking greatly increases risk.

- Prolonged exposure to the sun increases the risk of lip cancer.

More than 25% of oral cancers occur in people who do not smoke and have no other risk factors.

Oral Cancer is more likely to strike after age 40.
Studies suggest that a diet high in fruits and vegetables may prevent the development of potentially cancerous lesions.

Regular Dental Check-ups Important

Regular dental check-ups, including an examination of the entire mouth, are essential in the early detection of cancerous and pre-cancerous conditions. You may have a very small, but dangerous, oral spot or sore and not be aware of it.

Your dentist will carefully examine all areas of your mouth. In about 10% of patients, the dentist may notice a flat, painless, white or red spot or a small sore. Although most of these are harmless, some are not. Harmful oral spots or sores often look identical to those that are harmless - testing can tell them apart. If you have a sore with a likely cause, your dentist may treat it and ask you to return for re-examination.

Dentists often will notice a spot or sore that looks harmless and does not have a clear cause. To ensure that a spot or sore is not dangerous, your dentist may choose to perform a simple test, such as a brush biopsy, which usually is painless and can detect potentially dangerous cells when the disease is still at an early stage.

If your dentist notices something that looks very suspicious and dangerous, a scalpel biopsy may be recommended. This usually requires local anesthesia. Your general dentist may perform this procedure or refer you to a specialist for it.

 

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