You're undoubtedly familiar with some of the more common mouth problems: bad breath, canker sores, cold sores -- maybe even oral thrush. But if you notice a white or gray patch on your tongue, inside of the cheek or on the floor of your mouth, you might not be so sure what it is.
One cause for these patches could be a condition called leukoplakia. Oral leukoplakia is a disorder of the mucous membranes of the mouth, and it's caused by an irritation. The irritation could be the result of rough teeth, or rough spots on dentures, fillings and crowns that rub against your cheek or gum. It may also be caused by smoking cigarettes or a pipe, or chewing tobacco.
No matter the cause of the irritation, if you've got something new or different happening in your mouth, it's a good idea to get it checked out by a dentist.
Oral leukoplakia patches (also called lesions) are most common among older adults, although they can occur at any age. The white and gray patches develop slowly over months and are usually thick and slightly raised. Oral leukoplakia might be painless, although lesions can be sensitive to touch, heat or certain foods.
Even if you don't know you have oral leukoplakia, your dentist can probably spot it. Regular dental visits afford your dentist the opportunity to check not just your teeth but also your mouth and tongue. If your dentist suspects you have leukoplakia, he or she will perform a biopsy to rule out other possibilities such as oral cancer. You will be given local anesthesia to numb the area during the biopsy. Your dentist will remove a small piece of tissue from the lesion and send it to a lab for testing before beginning leukoplakia treatment.