Gingival Erosive Lichen Planus: Case Report
Regina Garcia DORTA1
João Batista de SOUZA2
Denise Tostes OLIVEIRA1
1Department of Stomatology, Area of Pathology, Faculty
of Dentistry of Bauru, University of São Paulo, Bauru, SP, Brazil
2Department of Prevention and Oral Rehabilitation, Faculty
of Dentistry, Federal University of Goiâs, Goiânia, GO, Brazil
Correspondence: Dra. Denise Tostes Oliveira, Av. Getúlio Vargas
4-82, apto 301-B, 17045-000 Bauru, SP, Brasil. e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Braz Dent J (2001) 12(1): 63-66 ISSN 0103-6440
INTRODUCTION | CASE
REPORT | DISCUSSION | RESUMO
A case of gingival erosive lichen planus is presented with special emphasis
on its clinical and microscopic characteristics. The differential diagnosis
and the controversy associated with the malignant potential of oral lichen
planus is also discussed.
Key Words: lichen planus, desquamative gingivitis, oral cancer, premalignancy.
A broad range of systemic diseases may have gingival lesions, including
lichen planus. The oral manifestation of lichen planus generally has typical
clinical aspects and distribution, but the atrophic and erosive forms may
be challenging even for the most experienced dental practitioner (1).
Atrophic lesions account for 5% to 44% of oral lichen planus manifestations,
while the erosive and/or ulcerative ones vary between 9% and 46% of cases
(1). This higher frequency of erosive lichen planus compared to the reticular
and atrophic forms, as previously observed by Silverman and Bahl (2), is
probably the result of the symptomatic nature of this lesion, which often
prompts an evaluation visit.
The occurrence of erosive lichen planus confined to the gingival mucosa
is characterized by the presence of diffuse erythematous areas that may
or may not be interspersed with desquamative and ulcerated foci. The lesions
may occur following the gingival outline and hyperkeratotic radiating striae
can be found at the periphery of the erosive regions, simplifying diagnosis.
This clinical appearance known as desquamative gingivitis is not pathognomonic
of oral erosive lichen planus and may represent the gingival manifestation
of many other diseases such as cicatricial
pemphigoid, pemphigus vulgaris, lupus erythematosus, epidermolysis
bullosa acquisita, and linear IgA disease. Hormonal dysfunction, candidosis,
lichenoid lesions and the vulvo-vaginal-gingival syndrome must also be
included in the differential diagnosis of oral erosive gingival lichen
planus (3-6). In addition, lichenoid lesions must be distinguished from
oral lichen planus because these lesions are similar both clinically and
microscopically. Generally, lichenoid lesions resolve after removal of
the inciting agent, such as dental amalgams or drugs (5), while lichen
planus usually requires the use of topical or systemic corticosteroids
Frequently, the atrophic and erosive forms of lichen planus cause pain
and burning in the affected area. Difficulties in the establishment of
diagnosis of gingival lichen planus may arise if gingivitis and periodontitis
are superimposed on the lesions (4). Biopsy is mandatory in cases of oral
erosive lichen planus because the clinical characteristics simulate a wide
spectrum of systemic diseases.
The precise etiology of the disease, however, remains elusive, but initial
lesions are the result of the destruction of basement membrane and basal
cell layer of the epithelium by immune cells. It appears that an early
event in lichen planus is the change in the plasma membrane of the keratinocytes
resulting in altered antigen expression and the appearance of new surface
antigens. It has not yet been established whether alterations are primary
changes, induced by a variety of external agents such as drugs and contact
allergens, or secondary events, induced by cytokines such as gamma-interferon
released by the inflammatory cell infiltrate (7).
The malignant potential of lichen planus is still controversial in the
literature and it has been commonly associated with the atrophic and erosive
forms (1,2,5,8). Most cases of reported malignant transformation are rather
poorly documented. Some of these cases may not have been true lichen planus,
but rather may have actually been dysplastic leukoplakias with secondary
lichenoid inflammatory infiltrate that mimicked lichen planus (5).
A case of gingival erosive lichen planus, with special emphasis on its
clinical and microscopic features, is presented. The importance of periodic
disease reevaluation and malignant potential of lichen planus is also discussed.
A 41-year-old female patient was referred to the Dental School of Bauru,
University of São Paulo for restorative treatment. Oral examination
showed the presence of multiple bilateral erythematous and desquamative
areas on both upper and lower buccal gingival mucosa (Figure 1). The lesions
were slightly symptomatic and followed the gingival outline without involvement
of the gingival margin. There was good dental plaque control and gingival
alterations were not
directly associated with dental restorations or any evident systemic
disease, drugs, smoking or genetic predisposition. On anamnesis, the patient
did not report any history of allergy to amalgam or other dental materials.
An incisional punch biopsy was performed from the periphery of the posterior
upper gingival lesion. The histopathologic examination of the gingival
lesion showed a flattened epithelium with liquefaction of the basal layer
and juxtaepithelial areas of chronic inflammatory infiltrate. The diagnosis
was gingival erosive lichen planus according to both clinical and histopathological
The patient was treated with a corticosteroid applied topically to the
gingiva twice daily (triamcinolone acetonide, Omcilon-A, Bristol-Myers
Squibb Brasil S/A, São Paulo, SP, Brazil). The complete remission
of lesions was observed after two months (Figure 2) and a one-year follow-up
did not detect exacerbation of the lesions.
Gingival lesions of lichen planus, as described in this case, may cause
difficulties in diagnosis. When considering the site chosen for biopsy,
ulcerated areas should be avoided, because they make microscopic features
confusing. Furthermore, initial lesions may have an unspecific histopathologic
pattern represented by chronic inflammatory infiltrate (4). A second biopsy
or immunohistochemical and immunofluorescence evaluation may be necessary
for the differential diagnosis with those systemic diseases which can mimic,
clinically or microscopically, lichen planus (6,9).
The presence of gingival erosive lichen planus in women may be associated
with the vulvo-vaginal-syndrome. It has been characterized by erosion and
desquamation of the vulva, vagina and gingiva (3). All patients presenting
oral lesions of lichen planus should be questioned about and examined specifically
for signs of genital involvement. In the present case, the patient did
not have any other signs, except for the gingival lesions.
Most cases of oral lichen planus are often asymptomatic but the atrophic
and/or erosive forms cause varied degrees of discomfort, which prompts
the search for early professional care. However, as in the present case,
patients may have the disease for a long time because lichen planus is
a chronic condition characterized by recurrent exacerbation and remission
The malignant transformation of oral erosive and atrophic lesions has
been described between 0.3% to 12.5% depending on different criteria adopted
by the authors. The development of squamous cell carcinoma may occur in
areas directly affected by lichen planus, as well as in other areas of
the oral mucosa (10). However, it is not established if atrophic and erosive
forms of lichen planus have an intrinsic potential for malignant transformation
or if the disorder facilitates the development of oral mucosa squamous
cell carcinoma by influence of exogenous carcinogens (11).
It has been suggested that the close cell-to-cell interaction observed
in lichen planus and the subsequent release of cytokines by keratinocytes,
mononuclear inflammatory cells and dendritic cells modifies the tissue
and cell surface proteins to the effect that the tissue becomes more prone
to dysplastic or malignant transformation. The close cell contact with
intrinsically released chemicals may change the amplification and structure
of cell surface proto-oncogene proteins and/or proto-oncogenes so that
the control of cell growth is distorted, eventually leading to malignancy.
The external factors affecting oral soft tissues (for example tobacco and
alcohol) also cannot be excluded from co-influencing the tissue transformation
As stated before, there is no consensus of the malignant potential of
oral lichen planus, and some authors believe that this assumption arose
as a result of misconceptions, misdiagnosis and misinterpretations reported
in the literature and legitimized with time. Many published cases of oral
lichen planus with malignant transformation occurred in patients with a
known history of exposure to carcinogens, others represented diagnostic
errors or even insufficient evidence to prove that lichen planus was present
at the outset. The most important failures would probably occur in microscopic
identification of changes in epithelial maturation with cellular aberrations
that range from mild atypia to frank dysplasia (12).
Since the etiology of lichen planus is not totally clarified (1,11),
the therapeutic goal is palliative rather than curative. Symptomatic lichen
planus is usually treated with anti-inflammatory medication, while gingival
lesions are treated with topical corticosteroids. Patients should be advised
to maintain good control of dental plaque in order to avoid superimposed
gingivitis and periodontitis.
Although oral lichen planus is not considered a premalignant condition
by some authors (12-14), the erosive and atrophic forms lack the normal
epithelial protective barrier and thus may be more vulnerable to exogenous
carcinogens. For this reason constant follow-up of erosive lichen planus
is recommended for early diagnosis of suspected transformed lesions. Other
authors, however, believe that oral lichen planus is undoubtedly a premalignant
condition, justifying more aggressive treatment and strict follow-up for
long periods (2,15,16).
Finally, since this issue will remain controversial for some time, it
must be emphasized that although a strict follow-up of erosive lichen planus
is necessary, dissemination of cancerophobia among both professionals and
patients should be avoided.
Dorta RG, de Souza JB, Oliveira DT. Líquen plano erosivo gengival.
Relato de caso. Braz Dent J 2001;12(1):63-66.
Um caso de líquen plano erosivo será apresentado com especial
ênfase para suas características clínicas e microscópicas.
O diagnóstico diferencial e a controvérsia relacionada ao
potencial de malignização do líquen plano também
Unitermos: líquen plano, gengivite descamativa, câncer
bucal, condição cancerizável.
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