What is Lichen Planus?

Lichen planus is a chronic disease which can appear in the mouth and on the skin. Some patients will have both mouth and skin lesions, and occasionally women may develop vaginal lesions. The lesions may disappear spontaneously, only to reappear after they seemingly have gone into remission.

How Does Oral Lichen Planus Appear?

The lesions of lichen planus occur in different forms and the appearance may vary at times. They may appear as white, slender, radiating lines or they may be red and ulcer-like at times. Lichen planus often is characterized by white, interconnecting lines called striae, which resemble the pattern of the lichen plant which grows on rocks. However, the disease has no connection to the plant lichen. Some patients are aware that they have symptoms of lichen planus, while other patients may not know of its existence until the dentist or dental hygienist brings it to their attention.

Who Gets Lichen Planus?

Lichen planus affects about 2% of the population. and the disease is seen slightly more often in women. Lichen planus usually occurs in adults with an average age of 56 years.

Is Lichen Planus Contagious?

No. Lichen Planus was first reported in 1869 and there have been no reported cases of the disease being transmitted from one person to another.

Is Lichen Planus Inherited?

No.There is little evidence to indicate that the disease runs in families.

Is Lichen Planus a Fungus?

No.Some cases of lichen planus may involve a separate fungal disease called candidiasis. Some studies have shown a higher incidence of candidiasis in patients with lichen planus. Candidiasis may be treated with antifungal medications.

How Long Will I have Lichen Planus?

The duration or severity of the disease is not predictable. Some patients have lichen planus for many years and other patients find the disease will disappear after a few months and may or may not recur.

Does Lichen Planus Cause Cancer?

No.Lichen planus does not automatically lead to cancer. If you have had a biopsy and a pathologist has reported that the lesion is lichen planus, you can be sure that you do not have cancer in that site. However, it is important to attempt to control or eliminate the disease, and additional biopsies may be necessary occasionally to check for any potential tissue changes.

What Can I Do To Control the Lichen Planus?

If the lesions are ulcerative or painful, medications such as topical steroids are often prescribed. Patients have found it helpful to keep a diary or log of factors that they feel may trigger outbreaks such as certain spicy or citrus foods, flavoring agents (such as peppermint or cinnamon), stressful events or trauma. Often no medication is necessary unless you have pain or burning.

A few studies have reported significant improvement in patients who have regular professional cleaning of the teeth and are conscientious with their home care. Patients have also reported fewer ulcerations and less sensitivity when they use milder toothpastes instead of tarter control products.

*Based on data collected from The Lichen Planus Study Interviews and Survey, at The University Of North Carolina School Of Dentistry, January 1995. Drs. Burkhart, Burkes and Burker.

Modified from: Burkhart N.W., Burkes EJ, Burker E.J. General Dentistry “Meeting the educational needs of patients with oral lichen planus.” 1997, 45:2, 126-132.

Please email questions or comments to Dr. Nancy Burkhart.