Your doctor makes a diagnosis of oral lichen planus based on:
- Discussion of your medical and dental history and the medications you're taking
- Review of symptoms, including lesions in your mouth and any other places on your body
- Examination of your mouth, and other areas as appropriate
He or she also may request lab tests such as:
- Biopsy. A small tissue sample is taken from one or more lesions in your mouth and examined under a microscope to look for indications of oral lichen planus. Other more specialized microscopic tests may be needed to identify immune system proteins commonly associated with oral lichen planus.
- Cultures. A sample of cells is taken from your mouth using a cotton swab. The sample is examined under a microscope to determine whether you have a secondary fungal, bacterial or viral infection.
- Blood tests. These may be done to identify conditions such as hepatitis C, which may rarely be associated with oral lichen planus, and lupus, which may look similar to oral lichen planus.
Oral lichen planus is a chronic condition. There is no cure, so the treatment focuses on helping severe lesions heal and reducing pain or other discomfort. Your doctor will monitor your condition to determine the appropriate treatment or stop treatment as necessary.
If you have no pain or discomfort and if only white, lacy lesions are present, you may not need any treatment. For more severe symptoms, you may need one or more of the options below.
Treatments such as topical numbing agents can be used to provide temporary relief for areas that are particularly painful.
Corticosteroids may reduce inflammation related to oral lichen planus. One of these forms may be recommended:
- Topical. Mouthwash, ointment or gel is applied directly to the mucous membrane — the preferred method.
- Oral. Corticosteroids are taken as a pill for a limited amount of time.
- Injection. The medication is injected directly into the lesion.
Side effects vary, depending on the method of use. Talk with your doctor to weigh the potential benefits against possible side effects.
Immune response medicines
Medications that suppress or modify your body's immune response may be used to improve more-severe lesions and lessen pain. They come in these forms:
- Topical ointments or gels. Calcineurin inhibitors, similar to oral drugs used to prevent rejection of transplanted organs, may be effective for treating oral lichen planus. But these medications have a Food and Drug Administration warning because of an unclear association with cancer. Examples include tacrolimus (Protopic) and pimecrolimus (Elidel).
- Systemic medication. For severe cases where oral lichen planus also involves other areas — such as the scalp, genitalia or esophagus — systemic medications that suppress the immune system may be used.
Dealing with triggers
If your doctor suspects that oral lichen planus may be related to a trigger, such as a drug, an allergen or stress, he or she can recommend how to address the trigger. For example, you may be advised to try another drug instead, to see an allergist or dermatologist for additional testing, or to learn stress management techniques.
Lifestyle and home remedies
In addition to regular medical and dental treatment, self-care measures may help improve your oral lichen planus symptoms or help prevent recurring episodes of severe symptoms:
- Practice good oral hygiene. Keep your mouth clean to reduce your symptoms and help prevent infection. Gently brush your teeth at least twice a day using a bland toothpaste, and floss daily.
- Adjust your diet. Cut out spicy, salty or acidic foods if they seem to trigger or worsen your symptoms. Choose foods that are soft to help limit discomfort. And reduce or eliminate the use of caffeine.
- Avoid irritants. Avoid alcohol or tobacco. Also avoid habits that can injure the inside of your mouth, such as chewing on your lip or cheek.
- Learn to manage stress. Because stress may complicate symptoms or trigger symptom recurrence, you may need to develop skills to avoid or manage stress. Your doctor may refer you to a mental health specialist who can help you identify stressors, develop stress management strategies or address other mental health concerns.
- See your doctor or dentist regularly. See your dentist twice a year for checkups and cleanings, or more often as directed by your dentist. Because long-term treatment is often required, talk to your doctor or dentist about how often you should be seen to evaluate how your treatment is working and for cancer screening.
Preparing for your appointment
You'll likely start by seeing your primary care doctor or dentist. Some people with oral lichen planus also develop lichen planus on their skin. Depending on your symptoms, you may be referred to a specialist in skin diseases (dermatologist) or a specialist in gum and dental diseases (periodontist).
What you can do
To get ready for your appointment:
- Bring a copy of all previous consultations and tests you've had about this problem.
- Ask if there's anything you need to do before the appointment, such as restrict your diet.
- Make a list of any symptoms you're experiencing, including any that may seem unrelated to your sore mouth.
- Make a list of key personal information, including any major stresses or recent life changes.
- Make a list of all medications, vitamins, herbs or other supplements that you're taking, and the doses.
- Prepare questions to help make the most of your time with your doctor or dentist.
Some basic questions to ask include:
- What's likely causing my symptoms or condition?
- What are other possible causes?
- What kinds of tests do I need?
- What's the best course of action?
- What are the alternatives to the primary approach that you're suggesting?
- I have these other health conditions. How can I best manage them together?
- Are there any restrictions that I need to follow?
- Should I see a specialist?
- Is there a generic alternative to the medicine you're prescribing?
- Are there any printed materials that I can have? What websites do you recommend?
Don't hesitate to ask any other questions during your appointment.
What to expect from your doctor
Your doctor or dentist is likely to ask you several questions. Be ready to answer them so you can focus on points you want to spend more time on. Your doctor or dentist may ask:
- When did the lesions or sores appear in your mouth?
- Have you found lesions anywhere else on your body?
- Do you feel any pain, burning sensations or other discomfort in your mouth?
- How would you describe the severity of the pain or discomfort?
- Have you recently started taking new medications?
- Do you take vitamins, herbs, other dietary supplements or nonprescription medicines?
- Do you have any allergies?
- Have you experienced any new or unusual stresses in your life?
- What other health conditions do you have?