Treating leukoplakia 

If you're diagnosed with leukoplakia it should be treated, particularly if it's thought there's a risk it might develop into mouth cancer.

Treatment should be considered if your biopsy results indicate particularly abnormal cells.

Your mouth should be regularly checked by a dentist or specialist to make sure the leukoplakia patch isn't changing or increasing in size and any new patches are identified early.

You should also visit your dentist for regular dental check-ups if your teeth or dentures are irritating your cheeks, tongue or gums.

Stopping smoking

If you smoke or use other tobacco products, the most effective form of treatment for leukoplakia is to stop. Not using tobacco can make a leukoplakia patch gradually disappear and may also significantly reduce the risk of developing mouth cancer.

If you smoke, it's strongly recommended you stop as soon as possible. Your GP can advise you about stopping, and prescribe medication to help you quit. NHS Smokefree also provides information, support and advice about giving up.

Read more about stopping smoking and treatments for stopping smoking.

Stopping or reducing alcohol

Giving up alcohol, or reducing your alcohol consumption, may reduce the size of a leukoplakia patch or lead to it disappearing completely. As with smoking, avoiding alcohol or limiting your intake will reduce your risk of developing oral cancer.

If you don't want to stop drinking alcohol altogether, you should ensure you don't drink any more than the recommended daily limits, which are:

  • 3-4 units a day for men
  • 2-3 units a day for women

A unit of alcohol is equal to about half a pint of normal-strength lager or a pub measure (25ml) of spirits. A small (125ml) glass of wine contains about 1.5 units of alcohol.

Visit your GP if you're finding it difficult to moderate your drinking. Counselling services and medication are available to help you reduce your alcohol intake.

You can monitor your level of drinking using the NHS Drinks Tracker which you can download for free if you have an iPhone, iPad or iPod touch.

Read more about drinking and alcoholalcohol units and treatment for alcohol misuse.

Surgical treatment

Surgically removing the leukoplakia patch may reduce the risk of mouth cancer developing by removing any abnormal cells.

The leukoplakia patch can be removed using a number of different techniques, including using a scalpel, laser or freezing (cryotherapy).

The procedure is usually carried out using a local anaesthetic, although a general anaesthetic may be required if the area is large.

After the leukoplakia patch has been removed, the underlying area of tissue should heal quickly. You'll usually need to have a follow-up appointment to check the affected area.

Medical treatment

There's currently limited evidence to suggest that medical treatment is effective in treating leukoplakia.

Medications such as retinoids or substances made from vitamin A have been proposed, but these treatments can have adverse side effects, and there's no consistent evidence that they're effective.

Treatments such as radiotherapy or chemotherapy are of no benefit.

Medical treatment may be used in cases where leukoplakia is associated with an infection by a fungus called Candida. In these cases, treatment with antifungal medicines may be used to get rid of the infection within the white patches. However, this is not a specific treatment for leukoplakia.


Page last reviewed: 15/01/2015

Next review due: 01/09/2017