When you look at your mouth in the mirror and suddenly notice there are white spots on the insides of your cheeks, it's normal to be a little alarmed. However, what you should really do is take a deep breath, relax, and make an appointment with your dentist. These white spots are likely a condition called leukoplakia, and usually, they are pretty harmless and easy to treat.
What causes leukoplakia?
The white patches of leukoplakia are actually places where your cheek tissue is growing abnormally. Your cheek cells are replicating faster than the older, outer cheek cells are sloughing off. This results in the white patches that, if you look really closely, appear to be a bit raised.
Now, there are many different reasons why a person may develop luekoplakia. If you are a smoker, the condition is likely a response to your tobacco use. The tobacco has likely damaged your cheek cells, triggering this excessive cell growth. If you have a denture, or braces, your device may be rubbing on your cheek and stimulating this response. Sometimes leukoplakia will also arise as a reaction to medications. Thus, if you are taking any medications, it is important to tell your dentist about them.
What testing will your dentist do?
In rare cases (more commonly if you are a smoker), leukoplakia can be a sign of oral cancer. When you present with this condition and your dentist has reason to suspect oral cancer, he or she will take a tissue sample from one of the spots. This procedure should not be overly uncomfortable. A numbing agent will be used to ensure you don't feel pain as a small portion of your cheek tissue is removed. Aside from this, your dentist will rely on visual observation to diagnose your condition.
How is leukoplakia treated?
On the rare chance that you are found to have oral cancer, your dentist will likely refer you to you a specialist for treatment, which may involve surgical removal of the affected tissue, radiation, chemotherapy, or a combination of these three.
What is more likely is that your leukoplakia are benign and simply an annoyance. To treat them, your dentist will first work to determine their cause. If they are brought on by tobacco smoke, your dentist will provide you with resources to help quit. If they are brought on by a dental device, your dentist will adjust the device or recommend a new one that does not rub.
Leukoplakia are usually harmless, but since there is a small chance they could be cancerous, it's important not to ignore them. For more information, speak with a dental office, such as Rupp and Grabowski Family Dentistry.