Lichen planus is a chronic, inflammatory disorder affecting the skin and lining mucosa. While it can affect other areas of the body, it is often only found in the mouth, where it is called oral lichen planus (OLP).
Who does it affect?
It affects only about 2% of the population, the majority of which are women over the age of 50. The cause is still not well understood but may be related to genetics and immunity. Lichen planus is not contagious and cannot be transmitted from person to person.
Appearance and symptoms of OLP
- Reticular OLP appears as white, lacy patches inside your mouth, most commonly on the inner cheeks. This type of OLP is usually asymptomatic.
- Erosive OLP is a more painful form in which the oral tissues are red and swollen, and ulcerations develop.
Getting a diagnosis
To get a definitive diagnosis of oral lichen planus, you will need to visit a healthcare professional. A biopsy is usually required to rule out any other potential disorders.
Oral lichen planus can be managed but not cured. Usually, medical treatment is not needed unless there is a painful outbreak. Topical steroids or immune response medications are potential treatment options.
Other considerations when dealing with OLP
- Spicy foods, coarse foods and citrus fruits may increase oral discomfort caused by OLP. Very hot (temperature) foods may also cause discomfort.
- If there are lesions on the gums making brushing painful try using gentle brush strokes and an ultra-soft toothbrush. Use a low-abrasive, mild flavoured toothpaste and avoid mouthrinses containing alcohol.
- Tobacco and alcohol can further irritate the oral tissues affected by OLP and should be avoided.
- Mouth injuries can trigger OLP. Avoid biting on inside of your lips and cheeks and try eating softer foods that won't scratch your oral tissues.
- Emotional stress may make the symptoms worse.
Oral lichen planus and oral cancer link
While it is very rare, there is some evidence of an association between oral lichen planus and an increased risk of developing oral cancer. Proper diagnosis of OLP and periodic monitoring is recommended.
If you suspect you have oral lichen planus, it is essential to consult with your doctor or your dentist. If you have any questions about your oral health, contact us today!