What is leukoplakia tongue?

Thick, whitish-color patches that form on the inside of the cheeks, gums or tongue is known as leukoplakia. These patches are caused by excess cell growth and are common among tobacco users. They can result from irritations such as an ill-fitting denture or the habit of chewing on the inside of the cheek. Sometimes leukoplakia is associated with oral cancer. Your dentist may recommend a biopsy if the patch appears threatening.
Leukoplakia is a term used to denote an abnormal whitish lesion on the soft tissue of the mouth or elsewhere. The whitish appearance is caused by hyperkeratosis--the increased production of keratin--the protein that hair, nails and the surface of the skin are composed of.

The usage of the term "leukoplakia" however has been very slippery. What it is NOT is a diagnosis. In many people's minds, it implies a pre-cancerous condition. While this is sometimes the case, it is not a necessary finding in these lesions. Chronic irritation in the mouth can cause hyperkeratotic lesions in the mouth. Most of these turn out to be benign lesions analogous to a callus of the skin.

If an obvious cause for the whitish area cannot be found, a biopsy should be performed. The results may show simple hyperkeratosis. In such cases one looks for a possible cause for chronic irritation, such as a rough filling or a cracked tooth. Sometimes the microscopic examination reveals cellular atypia (sometimes called "dysplasia") in which the orderly growth of cells on the mucous membrane is disturbed. The cells may be more irregular, may look darker under the microscope, or have other changes that indicate there may be some pre-cancerous potential. It is also possible that there may be frank cancerous changes.

So the clinical finding of "leukoplakia" is a description only. Any diagnosis must await the results of a biopsy.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.