If you haven’t heard of lichen planus before, you’re not alone. This condition is something that affects the mouths of some older people and it can often be symptomatic of underlying health conditions, so it is useful to know what to look out for. Here at CK Dental, we have put together a handy facts page so that you know what to look out for and what it means for your oral health.
What exactly is lichen planus?
It is a long-standing condition which affects the mouth and can spread to other areas of the body. Although symptoms are often mild, they are usually the tell-tale warnings that your body is struggling with its immune system, so symptoms of lichen planus should not be ignored.
What are the symptoms?
The most overt sign that you have developed this condition is the presence of white patches on your gums, the inside of your cheeks and on your tongue. This should not be mistaken for tonsillitis though, which is a painful condition that will leave you feeling very poorly and would need to be treated by a doctor. Tonsillitis also leaves white patches in the mouth although these are on the tonsils, rather than spread more widely around the mouth.
Who is likely to be affected by lichen planus?
Typically, women are at higher risk of developing lichen planus compared with men, although men can get it too. It is often more prevalent on older people – those in late middle age are the most at risk category.
If you think you may have developed lichen planus then it is important to speak to your dentist or GP as it will need to be officially diagnosed, which requires a biopsy (this is where a small piece of affected tissue is removed from the mouth and sent to the lab for testing).
The condition is usually indicative of a weakness in the immune system and can also be exacerbated by a number of other medications. The drug penicillamine, some pain killers, medicine for diabetes and also beta blockers have all been found to make lichen planus worse for some patients. Eating hot or spicy food can also make the patches in your mouth feel uncomfortable.
Treatment for this oral health condition
Unfortunately, although the symptoms of lichen planus can be treated to make it less uncomfortable, the condition is currently untreatable in terms of removing it from the body altogether. If it is indicative of issues with the immune system then this in itself can be treated, and if it is being worsened by taking different medications then alternatives or a change in dosage can be explored.