With leukoplakia, thickened, white patches form on our gums, the insides of our cheeks, the bottom of our mouth and, sometimes, our tongue. These patches can't be scraped off.
Tobacco — whether smoked, dipped or chewed — is considered to be the main culprit in its development. Tobacco use puts you at high risk of leukoplakia and oral cancer. Drinking alcohol combined with smoking further increases your risk.
Leukoplakia usually isn't dangerous, but it can sometimes be serious. Although most leukoplakia patches are noncancerous (benign), some show early signs of cancer. Many cancers on the floor of the mouth — beneath the tongue — occur next to areas of leukoplakia. For that reason, it's best to see a good doctor if you have unusual, persistent changes in your mouth. Oral cancer is a potentially serious complication of leukoplakia. Oral cancers often form near leukoplakia patches, and the patches themselves may show cancerous changes. Even after leukoplakia patches are removed, the risk of oral cancer remains.
When to see a doctor
Sometimes mouth sores can be annoying or painful without being harmful. But in other cases, mouth problems can indicate a more serious condition.
See a good doctor if you have any of the following:
- White plaques or sores in your mouth that don't heal on their own within two weeks
- Lumps or white, red or dark patches in your mouth
- Persistent changes in the tissues of your mouth