Do you have white patches in your mouth? What about redness and swelling? You may have oral lichen planus. It’s a long-lasting disease that affects your mouth. It doesn’t go away, but you can keep it under control.
Anybody can get it. Women are more likely to have it than men. It’s most common in people older than 40. But kids and young adults can also get it.
What Causes It?
Doctors aren’t sure what causes oral lichen planus. It may run in your family. And it could be linked to your immune system. Most of the time your immune cells keep you safe by attacking bacteria and viruses. With oral lichen planus, some doctors believe those cells get confused and attack the lining of your mouth.
There’s also a chance that it’s linked to hepatitis C. Many people infected with the virus get it.
What is certain is that oral lichen planus isn’t contagious. You can’t pass it to anyone else and you didn’t catch it from someone.
What Are the Symptoms?
Symptoms can come on slowly or start all at once. You may start out with dryness or a metallic, burning taste in your mouth. Then you’ll see white patches on your tongue, cheeks, and gums. They can be tiny dots or lines that make a lace-like pattern. You may also have redness and swelling. Sometimes, there’s peeling or blistering.
These sores can be burning and painful. They’ll likely hurt the most when you eat or drink foods that are spicy, salty, acidic (orange juice, tomatoes), or alcoholic. Crispy treats and drinks with caffeine can also cause problems.
Your doctor can diagnose oral lichen planus by taking a small piece of skin from inside your mouth. This is called a biopsy. He’ll run tests on it in the lab to see what the problem is. You may also need blood tests to rule out other conditions.
How Is It Treated?
If you only feel a slight roughness in your mouth, you may not need treatment. If you’re in pain or have sores, your doctor may suggest a corticosteroid cream. In rare cases, he might prescribe steroid pills.
What Can You Do?
Watch what you eat and drink. Certain foods and drinks — especially spicy or citrus ones — can make your symptoms worse. Hot or cold foods and drinks can also make you more uncomfortable.
Stress can also make things worse.
Get rid of any problems that could trigger oral lichen planus or make it worse:
- Have your dentist polish sharp teeth or replace damaged fillings or crowns.
- Talk to your doctor about changing medications that may be to blame.
- Brush twice a day and floss daily.
- See your dentist twice a year for a cleaning and check-up.
- Use a mild toothpaste and a soft toothbrush.
You also need to keep track of your symptoms and tell your doctor about any changes in your mouth. There’s a slight chance that oral lichen planus can lead to oral cancer. Make sure to get a screening for oral cancer every 6 to 12 months.