​What is Oral Lichen Planus?

oral lichenOral lichen planus is a condition that negatively affects the mucous membrane in your mouth. It is chronic (meaning it comes and goes over time) and can appear as red swollen tissues, open sores, or white patches. In some cases, it could cause mild discomfort, itchiness, or a burning sensation.

It is caused when the immune system attacks the cells of the oral mucous membranes. The reasons this happens are still unknown to medical science. Fortunately, it cannot be transmitted from one person to another.

While Oral lichen planus is not a life-threatening disease in and of itself, people who have it must be closely monitored via regular dental checkups. They are in a high-risk group of developing mouth cancer and other serious medical conditions in the areas that are affected by oral lichen planus.


Those who suffer from oral lichen planus usually have some form of pain, itchiness, or discomfort in their mouths. Physical indicators can include:

  • Sores that are open
  • Tender, swollen, or red patches of tissue
  • White, raised, patches of tissue that sometimes appear lace-like

It can appear in several areas of the mouth. The lesions could appear in the:

  • Gums
  • Tongue
  • Inside of the cheeks (most common)


The only way to tell if you have oral lichen planus for sure is to visit a dentist. They will request your medical history and ask you to list any medications you’re currently taking. A physical examination of your mouth will be performed, and the dentist might ask you if you’re experiencing lesions or open sores on other parts of your body.

If the dentist cannot make an accurate diagnosis, he will order a biopsy. A small piece of your tissue will be collected and then a laboratory will analyze the sample in order to help make a correct diagnosis.

Other Types

Some people who suffer from oral lichen planus have lesions and sores on other parts of their bodies such as:

Ears – If not treated ASAP, can lead to hearing loss.

Scalp – While somewhat rare, can lead to temporary or permanent hair loss.

Nails – Equally as rare as the scalp, but can result in nail ridges, splitting or thinning, and ultimately nail loss.

Esophagus – Another rare condition where it can cause the esophagus to narrow, which can make swallowing food or liquid very difficult.

Genital area – Pain, discomfort, and burning can occur when having intercourse. Lesions appear eroded and red – although sometimes can appear as white areas. They can occur on both male and female genitalia.

Skin – The lesions will appear as purplish bumps and can be very itchy.


If you suffer from a condition that compromises your immune system or you’re taking certain medications, your risk of developing oral lichen planus may be increased. However, at this point in time medical experts are still unsure of the exact cause.

If you think you might be suffering from oral lichen planus, it’s best to seek treatment immediately. Left to its own devices, this condition can increase the risk of:

  • Depression
  • Oral cancer
  • Scarring
  • Oral yeast/fungal infections
  • Increased pain
  • Stress/weight loss/anxiety


The white patches inside the mouth will most likely not cause any physical pain. It’s only when the red swollen patches (and open sores) occur does the pain start occurring. The actual amount of pain will differ from person to person and be contingent upon their overall tolerance to pain.

Pain can occur in one or more of the following areas:

  • Discomfort when chewing or speaking
  • Inflammation of gums (gingivitis)
  • Bleeding when brushing teeth
  • Sensitivity to spicy, hot, or acidic foods
  • Burning pain or sensation

Over-the-counter pain medicine could help alleviate some symptoms of the pain, but it’s best to make an appointment with a dentist as soon as possible. Only then can you get a clear understanding of what’s going on and begin the treatment process.


Currently it is not possible to completely cure oral lichen planus. Your dentist can only treat the symptoms and prolong symptom-free intervals. One of the first things your dentist will do is attempt to treat any part of your mouth that could exacerbate the condition. Broken/chipped teeth and restoration of bridges and other dental work should be performed. Any agitation to the mouth can cause the symptoms to return, so it’s best that all sharp edges on your teeth are properly taken care of.

Your dentist might prescribe medication based on his diagnosis. Drugs range from NSAIDs to antimalarials and could change based on the determination of your dentist as well as how well your body is responding to the drugs.

Oral Lichen Planus Experts on the Magnificent Mile

If you’re having oral discomfort or you think you might be suffering from oral lichen planus, schedule an appointment as soon as possible. If you do have oral lichen, your chances of developing mouth cancer are very high. It’s important that a qualified dentist examine your mouth and prescribe a course of treatment.

At Water Tower Dental Care, we specialize in helping patients feel and look better again. Our compassionate dentists use state-of-the-art technology which assists in patient comfort and healing time. Give us a call today to learn more how we can help solve your dental problems!