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Oral Lichen Planus - The Facts

Strobel Dentistry

Meet the Team: Dr. Becky Weightman, Periodontist Goodbye 2017, Hello 2018!

Oral Lichen Planus (OLP) is a chronic inflammatory condition of the oral mucosa (membrane/lining inside your mouth). Anyone can get it, but it is more common in women over 40. It may appear as:

  • Red, swollen tissue
  • Lacy, raised white patches
  • In more severe cases, open sores.

Causes of Oral Lichen Planus

Doctors have not determined an exact cause for OLP, but we know it has something to do with the immune system, as white blood cells are activated in its presence. Findings suggest the body may be reacting to an antigen in the skin, as happens in allergic reactions. This might be an autoimmune or cell-mediated immune response; more research is needed to be sure. Genetics may also play a role in a person’s susceptibility. Other potential triggers include:

  • Certain medications (blood pressure and diabetes treatments, painkillers, malaria medications, etc.)
  • Cheek biting or other mouth injury
  • Infection

OLP is not contagious, so there’s no need to worry about passing it to others. Diagnosis of OLP requires assessment by a healthcare professional, who will often perform a biopsy of the tissue to have it analyzed.

Symptoms of Oral Lichen Planus

Symptoms with OLP can range from barely noticeable to extremely painful depending on the severity of the condition. Typical symptoms include:

  • Mouth dryness/metallic taste in mouth
  • Redness and swelling
  • White patches/dots/lines
  • Painful ulcerations, peeling and blistering (this pain is exacerbated by acidic or spicy food, caffeine, smoking, and drinking)

Complications from OLP can include scarring, anxiety/depression, weight loss, or secondary infections. There are reported cases of OLP leading to oral cancer, though the link is not yet definitive. If you suffer from oral lichen planus, regular cancer screenings are imperative.

Is there any treatment for Oral Lichen Planus?

While OLP cannot be cured, there are treatments that can reduce or eliminate discomfort and help keep it under control. In some cases, your doctor will prescribe topical corticosteroids such as Clobetasol Propionate; they might also prescribe systemic steroids in serious cases. Additionally, there are steps you can take on your own:

  • Watch your diet: avoid excessive use of acidic food, spicy food, caffeine, alcohol
  • Don’t smoke
  • Use a mild toothpaste and soft toothbrush
  • Maintain good oral hygiene habits and visit your dentist at recommended intervals
  • Talk to your doctor about changing any medication that might be a trigger

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