Doctors do not know what causes leukoplakia, but they consider that chronic irritation from smoking, whether smoked, moistened or chewed, is the main cause of their development.
How to get rid of leukoplakia?
Treatment for leukoplakia
The treatment of leukoplakia is most effective when the lesion is found and treated early, while it is small. Regular checks are important, as is routine inspection of the mouth for areas that do not look normal.
For most people, suppressing the cause of irritation, such as quitting smoking or drinking alcohol, eliminates the disorder.
When this does not work or the lesions show early signs of cancer, the treatment plan may include the following:
- Extraction of leukoplakia patches. The patches can be removed with a scalpel, laser or with an extremely cold probe that freezes and destroys the cancer cells (cryoprobe).
- Follow-up consultations to control the area. When you have had leukoplakia, recurrences are frequent.
A type of leukoplakia called “hairy leukoplakia,” sometimes also called “oral hairy leukoplakia,” primarily affects people whose immune systems have been weakened by disease, especially HIV or AIDS.
In many cases, the doctor diagnoses leukoplakia by doing the following:
- Examine the patches in the mouth
- Try to clean the white patches
- Analyze your medical history and risk factors
- Discard other possible causes
If you have leukoplakia, the doctor may do the following tests to detect early signs of cancer:
- Oral brushing biopsy. This involves taking cells from the surface of the lesion with a small rotating brush. It is a non-invasive procedure, but it does not always result in a definitive diagnosis.
- Excision biopsy. This involves surgically removing tissue from the leukoplakia patch, or removing the entire leukoplakia patch if it is small. An excisional biopsy is a more integral procedure and usually results in a definitive diagnosis.
If the biopsy yields a positive cancer result and the doctor performed an excisional biopsy in which the entire leukoplakia patch was removed, you may not need further treatment. If the patch is large, you may be referred to an oral surgeon or an ear, nose and throat specialist for treatment.
Treatment of hairy leukoplakia
In general, no treatment is needed for hairy leukoplakia. Often, the disease causes no symptoms and is not likely to cause oral cancer.
The treatments that the doctor can recommend are the following:
- Medicines. You can take a pill that affects the entire system (systemic medications), such as antiviral drugs. These medications can inhibit the Epstein-Barr virus that causes hairy leukoplakia. Topical treatments can also be used.
- Follow up consultations Once you stop treatment, white patches of hairy leukoplakia may return. The doctor may recommend regular follow-up visits to monitor changes in the mouth, or continuous treatment to prevent the leukoplakia patches from reoccurring.
How to consult the dentist about leukoplakia
You are likely to start by consulting with the dentist or the primary health care professional. However, you may be referred to an oral surgeon or an ear, nose and throat specialist to obtain a diagnosis and treatment.
To prepare for the consultation, make a list of the following:
- Your symptoms, even if they do not seem to be related to your disease
- Key medical and dental information, such as previous symptoms and treatments, if any
- All medications vitamins, herbal medicines and other supplements that you take on a regular basis
- Questions to ask the doctor to make the most of the time of the consultation
Here are some basic questions to ask the doctor:
- What can be causing my disease?
- Are there other possible causes of my disease?
- Do I need special tests?
- Is this disease usually temporary or lasting (chronic)?
- What treatments are available? Which one would you recommend?
- What are the alternatives to the main approach you suggest?
- Do I have to respect any restrictions?
The doctor is likely to ask you a series of questions to treat leukoplakia, such as the following:
- When did you first notice these changes?
- Do you feel any pain or present bleeding in the problem area?
- Are you a smoker?
- Do you use tobacco to chew?
- How much alcohol do you drink?
- Do you have any difficulty swallowing?