Lichen planus (LY-kin PLAN-us) is a chronic condition that affects the skin and the lining of the mouth. It is usually temporary, lasting 10 years, on average, and most often affects adults between the ages of 30 and 60.
On the skin, lichen planus appears as clusters of small, itchy, red-purple, flat-topped bumps, usually on the forearms and thighs. In the mouth (also known as oral lichen planus) it has two basic forms:
- Reticular lichen planus comes from the lace-like pattern of fine white lines that appear on the inside of the cheeks, gums, and tongue. Usually, this form of lichen planus does not require treatment. It is asymptomatic, and does not hurt.
- Erosive lichen planus causes sores, or erosions to form on the lining of the mouth. Like the reticular form, these sores form on the cheeks, tongue and gums. Erosive lichen planus usually requires treatment. Your doctor may prescribe a powerful topical anti-inflammatory drug to help with the pain.
The exact cause of lichen planus is unknown, according to the American Academy of Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology
. Research suggests that the immune cells, which normally protect us by destroying bacteria or viruses, start attacking the skin or the lining of the mouth.
While there is no “cure” for lichen planus, it is a manageable condition. If you think you might suffer from lichen planus, you should talk with your dentist or doctor. They can determine what treatment (if any) is needed.