The term dysplasia refers to any abnormal growth and development of cells, tissues and organs. In maxillofacial surgery it is usually used as a term relating to microscopic (small scale) abnormalities at the level of cells and certain clinical appearances within the mouth lining. Cellular abnormalities may include size, shape, pigmentation and maturity of dividing cells. Abnormalities in cell development and growth can occur for a number of reasons and can lead to a wide spectrum of degrees of dysplasia.
In the context of oral and maxillofacial conditions, microscopic abnormalities at the level of cells are relevant. Some lesions of the oral mucosa (the lining of the mouth), usually a variety of white, red or speckled patches, are associated with such cellular abnormalities. Depending on the type and degree of dysplasia present in such lesions, some such mucosal lesions have to be considered as pre-malignant lesions: they may have a tendency to develop into a malignant lesion. It is important to understand that for the clinical interpretation the word leukoplakia is often used implying cellular dysplasia but in terms of disease progression is pretty useless.
If dysplasia is found in oral mucosal lesions, by taking a biopsy and microscopic examination of the specimen, in many cases this will be a form of cellular abnormalities which carries a low risk of developing into a malignant lesion. The situation is different for some such lesions where there is a significant risk to turn into a malignant lesion if left untreated.
Next section: Dysplasia