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J Periodontol. 2012 Oct;83(10):1270-8. Epub 2012 Jan 20.

Definitive and differential diagnosis of desquamative gingivitis through direct immunofluorescence studies.

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IMMCO Diagnostics, Buffalo, NY 14228, USA.



Desquamative gingivitis (DG) is a common clinical manifestation of oral autoimmune vesiculobullous diseases (VBDs). Their polymorphous clinical presentations coupled with similar histologic features make diagnosis indistinguishable among the different VBDs. Direct immunofluorescence (IF) studies are valuable gold-standard diagnostic tests that allow for discrimination among the various VBDs that present with DG. There have been no recent detailed analyses done that have used conventional light microscopy and direct IF in diagnosis to document the clinical associations of DG with various autoimmune oral diseases. The aim of this study is to examine retrospectively a large cohort of patients with DG for associated diseases and to determine the utility of direct IF and conventional light microscopy in establishing a definitive diagnosis.


During a 14-month period, our laboratory in Buffalo, New York, received 239 consecutive archival cases of gingival biopsy with a clinical diagnosis of DG. These specimens were submitted to establish or rule out a diagnosis of a direct IF-positive VBD. The demographic, clinical, and microscopic findings were tabulated using established inclusion and diagnostic criteria.


Approximately half the number (48.1%) of biopsies received for direct IF studies were submitted by periodontists. Slightly more than half of the patients (53%) previously had biopsies submitted for both hematoxylin and eosin (H & E) and direct IF testing. There was a female predilection for all the diseases studied except for pemphigus and linear immunoglobulin A disease. Oral lichen planus was the most common disease presenting as DG, followed by pemphigoid. The clinical diagnosis of lichen planus correlated with the biopsy findings in 80% of the cases and with pemphigoid in 60%. Definitive diagnosis was rendered to ≈80% of the gingival biopsies submitted. Negative cases of direct IF presenting as DG had significant pathology, such as dysplasia and carcinoma, which would have been otherwise missed if H & E studies had not been performed.


This study has the largest cohort of patients with DG suspected of VBD reported in the literature. The patients were predominantly females who had most often been seen by a periodontist. The definitive diagnosis of DG was most accurately achieved when H & E along with two biopsies for direct IF studies were submitted for testing. H & E studies were particularly important for definitive diagnosis of negative cases. Oral lichen planus was the most common disease presenting as DG, which is consistent with recent studies. Systemic connective tissue disorders that present as DG at initial clinical examination require direct IF and serum studies for a conclusive diagnosis. Clinical pathologic correlation, including history, presentation, H & E, and direct IF studies, are essential in establishing a definitive and differential diagnosis for cases presenting with DG.

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