Many individuals with pemphigus and pemphigoid (P/P) present with chronic mouth sores, often well before lesions appear on the skin or other parts of the body. These painful mouth sores tend to be persistent and present as red, ulcerated areas. In some cases — especially those with mucous membrane pemphigoid — lesions may predominantly involve the gum tissue. However, most people with P/P suffer lesions in multiple areas of the mouth, including the tongue, cheeks (buccal mucosa), wet surface of the lips, floor of the mouth, hard and soft palate, and throat.
Oral lesions are often subtle, especially in early stages of P/P. As a result, P/P are often misdiagnosed by both medical and dental practitioners as thrush, food or toothpaste “allergies,” poor oral hygiene, viral infections, or erosive lichen planus. Many patients with P/P are first treated on an empirical basis (treatment based on observation and experience without a definitive diagnosis), often with multiple medications, until one approach offers some relief. The relative rarity of these conditions mean they are often not on a medical or dental practitioner’s “radar” when assessing a patient’s oral lesions.
So if you suffer oral lesions, how can you partner with your dental health care provider to come up with a definitive diagnosis? A thorough review of your symptoms is critical. Make sure your dentist or dental hygienist listens carefully and asks detailed questions about your concerns, such as:
- How long have you had lesions?
- What areas are involved?
- Do you have any skin, eye, vaginal, or rectal involvement
- What do the lesions look and feel like?
- Do the lesions move?
- Does your pain level and disease activity vary over time?
- Do you currently have any active lesions?
Biopsy confirmed early gingival and mucosal lesions of mucous membrane pemphigoid. These lesions were managed as “non-specific gingival irritation, suspect allergy” for several months prior to a diagnostic biopsy being obtained.
The saying “diagnosis dictates treatment” is particularly relevant when it comes to treating oral ulcerative conditions.
While early disease symptoms can be subtle, most of the conditions for which P/P are misdiagnosed are not typically chronic (with the possible exception of erosive oral lichen planus or chronic ulcerative stomatitis). Moreover, at least to a clinician with experience diagnosing and managing these conditions, the clinical appearance is quite distinct — toothpaste allergies and poor oral hygiene do not lead to widespread, chronic oral ulcers!
The saying “diagnosis dictates treatment” is particularly relevant when it comes to treating oral ulcerative conditions. Therefore, the best advice I can offer is threefold:
- Your dentist or physician needs to take your complaint seriously and needs to thoroughly investigate your symptoms.
- A diagnostic tissue biopsy is essential before your dentist or physician treats you empirically with antifungal, anti-viral, or corticosteroid medication.
- If the clinician assessing you does not insist on performing a diagnostic biopsy, insist on being referred to a clinician with extensive experience in the diagnosis and management of oral lesions (e.g an oral and maxillofacial pathologist, periodontist, oral and maxillofacial surgeon, or dermatologist).