What is oral lichen planus?

Lichen planus is a chronic, or long-term, disease affecting the skin and mucous membranes, the thin layers of tissue that line body cavities and secrete mucus. When lichen planus appears in the mouth, it is called oral lichen planus.

How common is oral lichen planus?

The skin and oral types of lichen planus together affect an estimated two percent of the population.

Who is likely to have oral lichen planus?

Anyone can develop oral lichen planus. Women are twice as likely as men to develop the condition. Most cases of oral lichen planus occur in adults age 50 and older.

Is oral lichen planus contagious?

No, oral lichen planus does not spread from person to person.

What causes oral lichen planus?

The exact cause of oral lichen planus is unknown. Research suggests the condition is related to your genetic makeup and immune system.

Some people develop oral lichen planus after taking certain medications, such as beta-blockers and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Diseases such as hepatitis B and primary biliary cirrhosis may also cause oral lichen planus.

What are the symptoms of oral lichen planus?

For most people, oral lichen planus (reticular type) appears as white patches or web-like threads on the inside of the cheeks. These patches and threads are raised slightly. This type of lichen planus is usually not painful.

In some cases, oral lichen planus (erosive type) appears as bright red gum tissue. In severe cases, ulcers develop on the gums of mucosal tissues inside the mouth, or on the tongue. Eating and drinking spicy, hot or acidic foods or beverages can be painful for people with oral lichen planus.

Skin lesions are common among people with oral lichen planus. Almost half of people with oral lichen planus also have skin lichen planus, which causes itching.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 11/06/2018.

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