What is oral lichen planus? Oral lichen planus is a chronic inflammatory condition affecting the mucous membranes in the mouth. It is believed to be an autoimmune disorder that surfaces when the immune system attacks the oral mucous membranes. Although it is unknown what causes lichen planus, genetics and immunity may be involved. Lichen planus cannot be cured; however, it can be managed with careful monitoring and treatment.
What does it look like? Lichen planus, named for the appearance of white moss or lichen that grows on rocks, most commonly appears as white, raised lacy patches of tissue; red, inflamed, and swollen patches of tissue; or open sores that appear on the tongue or cheeks. Although lichen planus can be painful, sometimes there is little to no discomfort. Furthermore, it is not contagious and not cancerous. About two percent of the population is affected with oral lichen planus, although it is most common in women over 50.
To find out if someone has lichen planus, here at North Raleigh Periodontics we typically biopsy the area in order to diagnose the condition and rule out other diseases. If lichen planus is found, initial treatment and maintenance therapy are recommended to keep the condition under control. We recommend a mild toothpaste and a soft bristle brush to avoid irritating the area. Furthermore, we may prescribe numbing gel, topical corticosteroids, or other medication as needed. The goal of treatment is to convert painful, ulcerative oral lichen planus into reticular lichen planus and, ideally, eliminate the discomfort that may accompany the disease.
Although lichen planus itself is not harmful, it places the sufferer at risk for other, more serious conditions such as weight loss, malnutrition, and higher-than-average risks of oral cancer. Therefore it is important for individuals with lichen planus to be professionally monitored at least twice a year. The good news is that if you are diagnosed with oral lichen planus, it is manageable. Moreover, not only can prescription medication help alleviate the effects of the condition, but the symptoms can also be decreased by following a healthy lifestyle and balanced diet, exercising, and avoiding stress.