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Oral Lichen Planus: Symptoms, Causes & Treatment

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Oral lichen planus is a non-infectious, inflammatory condition that affects the membranes inside the mouth. It's a variation of the skin condition known as lichen planus. Although some patients will experience mild symptoms only, others may suffer from painful sores and red, inflamed tissues. There is no permanent cure 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 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 that a medical professional will ask for the patient's medical history and prescribed medications. They will then perform a visual and physical examination to make an initial diagnosis. If the diagnosis is uncertain, 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 cheek 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 triggers can lead to an outbreak or a worsening of the symptoms. Allergic reactions to products used by dentists 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 may increase the symptoms. In addition, the condition is linked to diabetes and hepatitis C.

Treatment of Oral Lichen Planus

Although there is no cure for oral lichen planus, the condition may go away by itself. In non-severe cases, where the patient experiences only lacy white or grey patches, no treatment is usually needed. In severe cases, treatment is recommended to relieve discomfort and help heal the sores. Some treatments that may provide relief include:

  • Corticosteroids in the form of mouthwashes, gels, ointments or powders, pills or injections
  • Immune response medications 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 may 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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