Lichen Planus

Patient Experience

  • Reference Number: HEY-135/2021
  • Departments: Oral Surgery, Dentistry and Max Fax
  • Last Updated: 14 May 2021


This leaflet has been produced to give you general information about your condition.   Most of your questions should have been answered by this leaflet.  It is not intended to replace the discussion between you and the healthcare team, but may act as a starting point for discussion.  If after reading it you have any concerns or require further explanation, please discuss this with a member of the healthcare team.

What is Lichen Planus?

Lichen planus is an inflammatory condition that can affect the lining of the mouth as well as the skin. The cause is not fully understood. It is common and affects up to 2 in 100 of the population. Lichen planus is most frequent in middle age and women are affected slightly more frequently than men. Although there is no known cure treatment can be given to improve the symptoms.

What does it look like?

In the mouth lichen planus is usually found on the inside of the cheeks and on the side of the tongue although it can also affect the gums and roof of the mouth. Usually it takes the form of a lace-like pattern of streaky white patches that occasionally can be thickened. Often the patches are symmetrical, i.e. affect the same site on opposite sides of the mouth. Sometimes lichen planus may be associated with red patches or ulcers.

  •  It is not cancer.
  •  It is not inherited, i.e. passed on from your parents.
  • It is not contagious, i.e. you cannot “catch it” from someone who has it or give it to somebody else.
  •  It is not related to nutrition although some of the foods you eat can make the patches of lichen planus sore.

How is lichen planus diagnosed?

The appearance of lichen planus is usually typical and can be diagnosed by an experienced doctor just by looking inside your mouth. The diagnosis usually needs confirmation with a biopsy (i.e. removal of a small amount of tissue which can then be looked at closely under a microscope).

Why do I need treatment?

If it is not causing you any problems it does not require treatment other than review by your dentist at routine check ups.  You may be kept under review in the clinic, especially if yours is the sort that forms ulcers or raw areas, or if strange cells are found in the biopsy. If lichen planus is causing you problems such as soreness, treatment can be given to lessen the symptoms.  Usually these are given directly on to the affected areas in the form of mouthwashes or pastes, rather than by having to take tablets to swallow.

What will happen?

In general, this is a condition which increases and decreases over a long period of time. Some people suffer for only a few months before their symptoms settle down, although the white areas might still be there. Others may suffer off and on for several years. Once the symptoms eventually do disappear they may or may not return at a later date.

What happens afterwards?

You may find it helpful to keep a diary and look for trigger events if you have a flare-up of symptoms. These flare-ups may be related to particular foods, life events or local trauma.

You may find it useful to change to a milder form of toothpaste. It is important to maintain good hygiene in the mouth. Your dentist will advise you. Some lichen planus can be related to corroded fillings. If this applies to you it may be suggested that a filling is replaced.

Should you require further advice on the issues contained in this leaflet, please do not hesitate to contact the Maxillofacial Unit (01482) 463218


General Advice and Consent

Most of your questions should have been answered by this leaflet, but remember that this is only a starting point for discussion with the healthcare team.

Consent to treatment

Before any doctor, nurse or therapist examines or treats you, they must seek your consent or permission. In order to make a decision, you need to have information from health professionals about the treatment or investigation which is being offered to you. You should always ask them more questions if you do not understand or if you want more information.

The information you receive should be about your condition, the alternatives available to you, and whether it carries risks as well as the benefits. What is important is that your consent is genuine or valid. That means:

  • you must be able to give your consent
  • you must be given enough information to enable you to make a decision
  • you must be acting under your own free will and not under the strong influence of another person

Information about you

We collect and use your information to provide you with care and treatment. As part of your care, information about you will be shared between members of a healthcare team, some of whom you may not meet. Your information may also be used to help train staff, to check the quality of our care, to manage and plan the health service, and to help with research. Wherever possible we use anonymous data.

We may pass on relevant information to other health organisations that provide you with care. All information is treated as strictly confidential and is not given to anyone who does not need it. If you have any concerns please ask your doctor, or the person caring for you.

Under the General Data Protection Regulation and the Data Protection Act 2018 we are responsible for maintaining the confidentiality of any information we hold about you. For further information visit the following page: Confidential Information about You.

If you or your carer needs information about your health and wellbeing and about your care and treatment in a different format, such as large print, braille or audio, due to disability, impairment or sensory loss, please advise a member of staff and this can be arranged.

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