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Oral lichen planus (OLP)  Go back to the list
Lichen planus is a chronic cell-mediated immune disorder that can affect the oral mucosa, skin, genital mucosa, scalp and nails. Oral lesions often occur in the absence of skin lesions. The symptoms show waxing and waning over a long period of time. The disease is more often seen among middle-aged people, especially women . The prevalence of this disease ranges from 0.5 to 2.6%
Although the exact etiology is not known, an immune-mediated pathogenesis is recognised. Auto-cytotoxic T lymphocytes trigger apotosis of epithelial cells, leading to chronic inflammation . Stress is one of the most frequent causes of acute exacerbation of these lesions. Other associated factors include poor oral hygiene, trauma and dental procedures . The association between chronic liver disease and OLP is controversial. However, a strong association between hepatitis C and OLP has been reported by several authors , and geographical heterogeneity exists. This association is found more in Mediterranean areas and Japan, possibly because of immunogenetic factors .
Clinically, OLP can present as white striations (Wickham striae), white papules, white plaque, erythema, erosion or blisters. They usually present as symmetrical and bilateral or multiple lesions. Buccal mucosa, dorsum of tongue and gingivae are commonly affected. Based on its clinical appearance it is classified into six types, i.e., reticular or annular, papular, plaque-like, erosive, atrophic and bullous .The two major clinical forms are reticular and erosive types. The reticular form appears as bilateral asymptomatic, white, lacy striae or papules. The erosive forms manifests as areas of tender erythema and painful ulcers surrounded by peripheral white, radiating striae. It may also manifest itself as generalized erythema and ulceration of the gingiva, known as desquamative gingivitis. Lichen planus is often asymptomatic; however, the atrophic and erosive forms can cause a burning sensation and sometimes severe pain.
Oral lichenoid reactions (OLR), which have oral lesions similar to OLP, may be regarded as a disease in its own right caused by certain medications or dental amalgam restorations. Lichenoid lesions are also seen following graft versus host reaction in transplant patients. Lichenoid lesions are also demonstrated where betel quid is usually placed in the oral cavity .
There is considerable controversy regarding the malignant potential of OLP. Several studies have shown its malignant potential, ranging from 0.4 to 5.6%; however, the highest rate is seen in erosive OLP and lichenoid lesions
. The diagnosis of OLP can be made from the clinical features if there are sufficient characteristics, but biopsy is recommended to confirm the diagnosis and to exclude dysplasia and malignancy.
Microscopic findings include hyperkeratosis, acanthosis with intercelluar oedema of the squamous cells, ‘saw tooth’ appearance of the rete pegs, liquefaction, degeneration of the basal layer of the cells and a dense band of subepithelial lymphocytic infiltration. Small round eosinophilic globules called colloid or civatte bodies may be seen in the epithelium, mostly in the spinous and basal cell layers. Atrophic lesions show thinning or flattening of the epithelium.
The following differential diagnosis should be considered for OLP:
- Maintenance of good oral hygiene
- Elimination of precipitating factors
- Treatment of super added fungal infection
- Topical steroids
- Topical isotretinoin gel & tretinoin ointment
- Topical tacrolimus & cyclosporins
- Systemic isotretinoin
- Systemic steroids
Generally OLP is asymptomatic. However, the erosive forms can cause symptoms ranging from a burning sensation to severe pain, and require treatment. Maintenance of good oral hygiene and removal of factors which exacerbate these lesions can enhance healing and lessen symptoms. In symptomatic cases, drugs such as anti-inflammatory agents, mainly topical steroids, have been tried. Systemic steroid therapy is reserved for severe exacerbations. Candida albicans is present in about 37% of OLP, and the symptoms may be aggravated by this
. Antifungal treatment of erosive lesions can change the lesion to the reticular form. Miconazole gel is found to be useful in the treatment of OLP with candidiasis
. Several other agents like topical or systemic retinoids, topical tacrolimus or cyclosporin and photodynamic therapy have also been tried in OLP with variable success
. Surgical management, including cryotherapy and laser, has been tried. However, surgical excision is not recommended as the first choice of treatment . Lesions may develop in the healing wounds and recur in scars producing even more symptoms. Even though several interventions have been tried, with varying success rates, a permanent cure is not yet possible for OLP
In the case of OLR, resolution usually occurs following the removal of causative agent . Changing medications causing OLR or replacement of causative dental restoration may lead to regression of lesions .
In view of the potential for malignant transformation, patients with OLP, especially those with dysplasia, should be kept on regular follow-up, once every 2–3 months . However, asymptomatic patients, mainly reticular type, may be reviewed annually .
|Figure 1: Annular form of lichen planus on the right buccal mucosa. Note the pigmentation and the ring-like pattern of Wickham striae (yellow arrows).|
|Figure 2: Annular form of lichen planus on the right buccal mucosa. Note the ring-like pattern of Wickham striae (red arrows).|
|Figure 3: Annular form of lichen planus on the right buccal mucosa. Note the ring-like pattern of white striae (yellow arrows).|
|Figure 4: Lichen planus. Note the white 4x3.5 cm patch on the right side of the dorsum tongue intermingled with areas of pigmentation. Another annular form of lichen planus can be seen on the left side of the dorsum tongue.|
|Figure 5: Lichen planus. Note the diffuse areas of pigmentation of the dorsum tongue intermingled with Wickham striae. The individual papillae on the tongue can be made out distinctly.|
|Figure 6: Annular lichen planus. Note the ring-like pattern on the right buccal mucosa, retromolar trigone and hard palate.|
|Figures 7: A reticular form of lichen planus. Note the bilaterally symmetrical patterns, which are characteristic of lichen planus.|
|Figure 8: Lichen planus. Note the reticular arrangement of Wickham striae on the left buccal mucosa of this 30–year-old female patient.|
|Figure 9: Reticular lichen planus involving the posterior ventrolateral aspect of the tongue. Note the prominent lingual varicosities anteriorly.|
|Figure 10: Reticular lichen planus involving right buccal mucosa and dorsum of the tongue.|
|Figure 11: Reticular lichen planus. Note the extensive lesions involving right buccal mucosa and retromolar trigone.|
|Figure 12: Lichen planus in the right buccal mucosa. Note the lacy white Wickham striae and the localized hyperpigmentation.|
|Figure 13: Lichen planus in the left buccal mucosa. Note the Wickham striae posteriorly (yellow arrow) and the Fordyce granules anteriorly (red arrows), which appear as small yellow nodules.|
|Figure 14: Lichen planus. Fig. 14A: Note the small papules on the dorsum tongue (yellow arrow) intermingled with areas of pigmentation. Fig. 14B: Cutaneous involvement of lichen planus. Note the well-defined macular lesions on the legs of the same person with oral manifestations of lichen planus.|
|Figure 15: Lichen planus of the tongue.|
|Figure 16: Plaque type lichen planus. Note the 4x3 cm raised lesion on the dorsum of the tongue surrounded by hyperpigmentation.|
|Figure 17: Bullous or vesicular lichen planus. Note the fluid-filled vesicles, which project out from the surface (arrow).|
|Figure 18: Atrophic lichen planus. Note the extensive nature of the atrophic lichen planus involving the hard palate, retromolar trigone, buccal mucosa, labial mucosa and tongue.|
|Figure 19: Erosive Lichen Planus. An erosive lesion of 2x1 cm size on the right buccal mucosa surrounded by Wickham striae.|
|Figure 20: Erosive lichen planus on the ventral surface of the tongue, just above the lingual frenum, surrounded by white striae.|
|Figure 21: Erosive lichen planus. An erosive area of 1x1 cm on the right buccal mucosa, surrounded by Wickham striae.|
|Figure 22: Erosive lichen planus. Note the erosive patch on the left buccal mucosa surrounded by Wickham striae.|
|Figure 23: Erosive lichen planus. Note the areas of erosion interspersed with Wickham striae on the left buccal mucosa.|
|Figure 24: Lichenoid reaction (arrow) in this pan masala chewer. Note the white striae on the left buccal mucosa.|
|Figure 25: Lichenoid reaction. Note the lichenoid reaction on the left buccal mucosa due to type IV hypersensitivity reaction to amalgam filling in the buccal aspect of first and second molars on the left lower jaw.|