Oral Lichen Planus

What is Oral Lichen Planus?

Oral Lichen Planus is a chronic condition that causes inflammation in the mucus membranes along the inside of the mouth. It can appear as red swollen tissues, open lesions, or white lacy patches. These sores can cause significant discomfort within the mouth, but the condition cannot be passed on to another person. Many patients are unaware that they even have it.

Though it is not yet understood why, oral lichen planus occurs when the white blood cells in a person’s immune system attack the cells of the oral membranes. Some believe – though it has not been proven – that this may an indication of an underlying immune disorder. In some cases, it is possible that oral lichen planus could be the result of using certain medications. Other times, it could be related to a mouth injury, allergic reactions to dental materials, or an infection.

What are the Symptoms of Oral Lichen Planus?

The sores that develop within the mouth during oral lichen planus most commonly appear along the insides of the cheeks, although they can also be found on the tongue, gums, palate, and inner lip. While the white patches may not cause any discomfort, red patches or sores can cause:

  • Burning sensations
  • Pain
  • Bleeding when brushing teeth
  • Sensitivity to acidic, spicy, or hot fods
  • Gingivitis
  • Discomfort when swallowing, chewing, or speaking
  • Thick painful patches on the tongue

As a result of these symptoms, patients may develop further complications such as nutritional deficiency, anxiety, depression, stress, weight loss, scarring, and oral cancer.

Oral Lichen Planus Causes

This common disease of the mouth or on the skin can be caused by a wide variety of conditions. In many cases, the exact cause is not known, but there are many causes that are suspected.

Hepatitis C is suspected to cause oral lichen planus. Other possible causes are taking certain medications, including medications for heart disease, high blood pressure, malaria, pain and diabetes. Another possible cause is an autoimmune reaction that causes the body’s immune system to mistaken attack the inside of the mouth.

In some patients, the condition can be caused by the mouth’s reaction to metal dental fillings. When the patient has a dental crown that is sharp or rough, this can trigger the condition.

In some cases, the disorder could be caused by genetics, as it can run in families. Sometimes, getting into the habit of biting the tongue or cheeks can create this inflammation and pain. Citrus and spicy foods can make it worse, as can stress and strong toothpaste.

How is Oral Lichen Planus Treated?

Oral lichen planus is a constant condition, and there is no cure. Treatment instead focuses on reducing discomfort and promoting the healing of any sores. Patients with no pain or just white lacy lesions may not need medical care. Most symptoms can be treated with topical, oral, or injectable corticosteroids. To improve more severe complications, topical ointments and medications that suppress the immune system may be needed.

Oral Lichen Planus Prevention

To prevent this condition, practice good oral hygiene. Brush your teeth twice a day and floss at least once a day. Avoid spicy foods, as well as foods and drinks served at very hot temperatures.

Talk to your dentist about filing down any sharp teeth or dental crowns to remove the irritating edges. If you have metal work in your mouth, discuss replacing it with another material with your dentist. Brush your teeth with a soft toothbrush and use a toothpaste that is mild and non-irritating.

Find out whether any of the medications you take have mouth irritation, inflammation or pain as a side effect. You may be able to switch to a different medication.

Lower your stress levels whenever possible to prevent the condition from flaring up. Eat plenty of fruit and vegetables and avoid smoking.

Last Reviewed:
October 07, 2016
Last Updated:
January 18, 2018