5 Things HIV Positive People Need To Know About Hairy Leukoplakia

HIV weakens your immune system, and one place that this effect is very obvious is inside your mouth. A wide variety of dental problems commonly affect people with HIV, and one that you're likely to encounter is hairy leukoplakia. Here's what you need to know about this disease. 

What is hairy leukoplakia?

Hairy leukoplakia is an oral condition that causes white patches to grow on your tongue and other surfaces inside your mouth. As the name suggests, these patches tend to have a hairy appearance. These patches look similar to other oral problems like thrush or oral cancer, so your dentist will probably want to biopsy the patches, just to be safe. 

How do you know you have it?

Hairy leukoplakia doesn't usually hurt, so if the patches develop in a hard-to-see part of your mouth, you may not notice any symptoms. If this happens, your dentist will discover these patches during your regular dental check up. This is why it's important to see your dentist regularly: your dentist checks your mouth for much more than just cavities.

What causes hairy leukoplakia?

Hairy leukoplakia is caused by the Epstein-Barr virus, one of the most common viruses in people. Most people have this virus inside their bodies, and for people with healthy immune systems, this isn't a big problem. Often, it causes no symptoms. In people with HIV, the immune system can't fight off the virus, which allows hairy leukoplakia to grow inside the mouth.

How common is it?

This condition is rare among the general population, but very common among HIV positive people. It happens to between 15% and 20% of people in this group, making it one of the most common oral problems that occurs in HIV positive people. 

How is it treated?

Hairy leukoplakia is a sign that your immune system isn't working as well as it should, so once your dentist diagnoses it, you will have to see your doctor to have your antiretroviral therapy adjusted. Seeking treatment is important because developing hairy leukoplakia is a warning sign that your HIV infection is turning into AIDS. 

Hairy leukoplakia is a common oral problem among HIV positive people, and if you have white, hairy patches inside your mouth, you might have it. Regular visits to a dentist office, like Family Dental Center TriCities, PC, will also help you monitor your dental health and keep an eye out for this condition.