What is oral leukoplakia?

Oral Leukoplakia
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Oral leukoplakia: Overview

Oral leukoplakia is a white patch on the inside of the mouth or on the tongue. Sometimes it turns into cancer.

Leukoplakia is most common in people over 60. You are more likely to get it if you drink too much alcohol or if you smoke, dip, or chew tobacco. Your risk is also higher if your mouth gets irritated or injured, such as from a rough tooth or ill-fitting dentures. People who don't have enough nutrients in their diet, such as vitamin A or B, are also at risk.

Your doctor may remove a small piece of the white patch to check for cancer. This is called a mouth biopsy.

You may get medicine to help get rid of the white patches. If the patches don't go away, your doctor may do surgery to remove them.


Leukoplakia is a condition in which thick, hard, white patches form inside the mouth and cannot be wiped off. Leukoplakia is commonly caused by irritation, such as from the rubbing of a rough tooth or a poorly fitting denture, or from smoking or using smokeless tobacco.

Leukoplakia may clear up if the source of the irritation is removed, by fixing the tooth or denture, or by stopping tobacco use. It may take several weeks or even months for the leukoplakia to go away completely.

In some cases, leukoplakia can be an early sign of cancer of the mouth.

How can you care for yourself when you have oral leukoplakia?

  • Do not smoke, chew, or dip tobacco. Using tobacco can cause leukoplakia. If you need help quitting, talk to your doctor about stop-smoking programs and medicines. These can increase your chances of quitting for good.
  • Limit alcohol to 2 drinks a day for men and 1 drink a day for women. Too much alcohol can cause health problems.

Oral leukoplakia: When to call

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • The white patches in your mouth bleed.
  • The white patches in your mouth do not go away.
  • You get new white patches in your mouth.
  • You do not get better as expected.

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