Oral lichen planus (LIE-kun PLAY-nus) is an ongoing (chronic) inflammatory condition that affects mucous membranes inside your mouth. Oral lichen planus may appear as white, lacy patches; red, swollen tissues; or open sores. These lesions may lead to burning, pain or other discomfort.
Oral lichen planus can’t be transmitted from one person to another. The disorder happens when the immune system puts an attack against cells of the oral mucous membranes for unknown reasons (autoimmune disorder).
Symptoms can normally e managed, but people who have oral lichen planus need constant monitoring because they may be at risk of having mouth cancer in the affected places.
Oral lichen planus signs and symptoms affect the mucous membranes of the mouth including.
The lesions may appear as:
Red, swollen, tender patches of tissues
Lacy, white, raised patches of tissues
These lesions may occur on the:
Inside of the cheeks, the most common location
Pain or discomfort
Inner tissues of the lips
The white, lacy patches may not be uncomfortable when they occur on the inside of the cheeks. However, symptoms such as red, swollen patches and open sores may include:
Burning sensation or pain
Painful, thickened patches on the tongue
Sensitivity to hot, acidic or spicy foods
Inflammation of the gums (gingivitis)
Discomfort when speaking, chewing or swallowing
Bleeding and irritation with tooth brushing
Other types of lichen planus
If you experience oral lichen planus, you may have lichen planus lesions affecting some parts of your body.
Skin: Lesions often appear as purplish, flat-topped bumps that are normally itchy.
Genitals: Lesions on the female genitalia usually cause pain or burning and uncomfortable while having intercourse. The lesions are normally red and eroded and sometimes appear as white areas. Lesions also can occur on male genitalia.
Ears: Lichen planus of the ears can result to hearing loss.
Scalp: When skin lesions happen on the scalp a rare condition they may lead to temporary or permanent hair loss.
Nails: Though uncommon, lichen planus of the toenails or fingernails may cause ridges on the nails, thinning or splitting of nails, and temporary or permanent nail loss.
Eyes: Though rare, lichen planus may include the mucous membrane surfaces of the eyes, and can lead to scarring and blindness.
Esophagus: Lichen planus of the esophagus also is rare, but when it happens, it may cause a narrowing of the esophagus or the formation of tightened, ringlike bands in the esophagus that can make swallowing challenging.
When to see a doctor
Contact your doctor or dentist if you experience any signs or symptoms listed above.
It’s not unclear what causes oral lichen planus. However, T lymphocytes, certain white blood cells involved in inflammation seem to be activated in oral lichen planus. Although it could show an immune disorder, more analysis is required to determine the exact cause.
It’s possible that, in most people, oral lichen planus may be caused by certain medications, infection, mouth injury, or allergy-causing agents including dental materials. However, these causes are not certain.
Certain factors may increase your risk of having oral lichen planus, such as having a disorder that endanger your immune system or taking some medications, though more research is required.
Severe cases of oral lichen planus may raise the risk of:
Scarring from erosive lesions
Weight loss or nutritional deficiency
Stress or anxiety
Secondary oral yeast or fungal infections