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Oral Lichen Planus: Symptoms, Causes & Treatment

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Medically Reviewed By Colgate Global Scientific Communications

Oral lichen planus is a non-infectious, inflammatory condition that affects the membranes inside the mouth, and it's a variation of the skin condition, lichen planus. For some patients, the symptoms are mild, but for others, painful sores and red, inflamed tissues cause discomfort. No permanent cure exists for the condition, but certain medications and lifestyle changes can offer relief.

Oral Lichen Planus Symptoms

White, lacy patches on the tongue and the insides of the cheeks are the typical symptoms of lichen planus affecting the mouth, according to the American Skin Association. The patches are a visual symptom only and aren't painful or itchy. In severe cases of the condition, however, ulcers and tender sores appear that can make eating and drinking painful. Alternatively, some patients may experience a burning sensation in the mouth tissues.

Diagnosis of Oral Lichen Planus

An oral surgeon, dentist or dermatologist can diagnose oral lichen planus. The Mayo Clinic explains a medical professional will ask for the patient's medical history and prescribed medications. Then they will perform a visual and physical examination to make an initial diagnosis. If the diagnosis isn't certain, they may perform a biopsy, where a small piece of tissue is removed and studied under a microscope. Other possible diagnostic aids include a swab of the cheeks cells for microscopic examination and a blood test for hepatitis C, which is associated with the condition.

Causes of Oral Lichen Planus

The exact cause of oral lichen planus isn't known, but certain things can trigger an outbreak or a worsening of the symptoms. Allergic reactions to products dentists use to perform dental procedures, mouth injuries and infections and certain medications can spark the development of the condition. Though stress isn't a known cause, emotional stress can increase the symptoms. In addition, the condition is linked with diabetes and hepatitis C.

Treatment of Oral Lichen Planus

No cure exists for oral lichen planus, though the condition can go away by itself. If a case isn't severe and the patient only experiences the lacy white or gray patches, no treatment is usually needed. In severe cases, treatments relieve the discomfort and help heal sores. Some treatments that may provide relief include:

  • Corticosteroids in the form of mouthwashes, gels, ointments or powders, pills or injections
  • Immune response medications like pimecrolimus cream and tacrolimus ointment applied directly to the affected area, or a systemic medication taken internally
  • Light therapy
  • Aloe vera

If an allergic reaction could be triggering an outbreak, you may be referred to a dermatologist or allergist.


Good oral care is essential to managing oral lichen planus. Patients should brush gently twice a day with a soft-bristled toothbrush. Sufferers should also avoid salty, spicy or acidic foods, caffeine, alcohol and tobacco, and eat soft foods that don't irritate the mouth tissues. Patients who have the habit of chewing the lips or gums should try to stop because mouth injuries can trigger an attack.

Complications of Oral Lichen Planus

Though a lichen planus infection in the mouth isn't harmful, sufferers are at an increased risk of other, more serious, conditions. They may experience depression, stress, anxiety, pain, weight loss, malnutrition, scarring or secondary infections. Sufferers are also at a higher-than-average risk of developing oral cancer. Patients should visit their dentist or physician twice a year to monitor the condition.

If you believe you may have symptoms of lichen planus in the mouth area, consult your dentist or a physician. Even though the condition isn't harmful, it might be a sign of a more serious problem. What's more, if your symptoms are painful, a medical professional can prescribe something to reduce your discomfort.


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This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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