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What Is Oral HPV?

By Angela Crout-Mitchell
Updated May 17, 2024
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The term oral HPV refers to a viral infection caused by one of the human papillomavirus strains, of which about 30 are linked to mouth infections. This condition is highly contagious, and there are several ways it can be transmitted including kissing, oral to genital contact, and sometimes from an affected mother to child at the time of birth. Symptoms commonly include lesions or sores on various parts of the mouth such as the lips, palate, and tongue. It is not uncommon for the virus to lay dormant and be non symptomatic for months or years at a time. Treatments are available for use during outbreaks, but because oral HPV is a virus and lives in the body, there is no known permanent cure.

The most common place for the lesions associated with oral HPV to appear is on the lips, often in the form of cold sores or possibly even warts. Oral warts are most prevalent in HPV cases acquired through oral sex with an infected partner. The roof of the mouth or palate, the tongue, and other regions of the mouth including the buccal mucosa or inside of the cheek can manifest lesions as well, especially in a severe outbreak. When children are born with this type of infection, the lesions may be present on both the upper and lower tract of the respiratory system and can be removed surgically, but it is likely that future outbreaks will occur.

It is not unusual for oral HPV occurrences to be linked with other diseases of the oral cavities such as oropharyngeal cancer and oral condylomas. The presence of other oral diseases can cause more frequent outbreaks of HPV symptoms and lesions. A higher frequency of outbreaks is also the case for patients with suppressed immune system function due to diseases such as HIV, and transplant patients that must take anti rejection medications for the rest of their lives.

Preventing oral HPV can be difficult because it is a highly transmittable communicable disease that affects an estimated 80% of the population. In most cases, people with this virus may never notice any symptoms and this characteristic of the disease is part of the reason it is so easy to spread. Medical experts recommend avoiding oral sex with multiple partners, not kissing or having oral contact with anyone currently displaying lesions, and also having any unusual oral sore or lesion checked by a medical professional as quickly as possible.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is oral HPV?

It is one of the most widespread STDs in the world and is referred to as a "silent" infection since it frequently goes unnoticed. In some cases, however, it can cause changes in the lining of the mouth, throat, and other areas of the face, including warts, lesions, and abnormal growths. It is crucial to remember that the majority of oral HPV infections resolve on their own and pose no long-term health risks. 

How does oral HPV spread?

The mucous membranes of the mouth, throat, and other parts of the face are frequently the sites of oral HPV transmission. Sharing utensils, toothbrushes, or other items that come into contact with the mouth, throat, or face can cause this, as can oral sex and kissing. It's crucial to remember that the virus can spread even when there are no outward signs of infection. 

What are oral HPV symptoms?

The majority of oral HPV infections are symptomless and heal without medical intervention. The lining of the mouth, throat, and other parts of the face can occasionally change, leading to warts, lesions, and abnormal growths. Changes in voice, trouble swallowing, and soreness or discomfort in the throat or mouth may also be signs of oral HPV. 

Who has the highest risk of oral HPV?

Anyone who has had unprotected oral contact with someone who has an oral HPV infection has the risk of being infected. Oral HPV is also more likely to spread to people who have several sexual partners, have compromised immune systems, smoke, or drink too much alcohol. 

What is the treatment for oral HPV?

The majority of oral HPV infections heal without medical intervention. When a virus does not go away on its own, it may be treated with treatments like topical creams or antiviral pills. Surgery can be required in more severe situations to remove any abnormal growths or lesions. Because there is no vaccination or treatment for oral HPV, prevention is essential.

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Discussion Comments

By serenesurface — On Jun 22, 2013

What are the chances that someone with oral HPV will develop oral cancer?

I've recently been diagnosed with oral HPV and I had a biopsy done on the lesions in my mouth. Thankfully, none of them turned out to be cancerous. But my doctor said that I have to have routine check-ups and more biopsies in the future because the lesions may not stay harmless.

I know that HPV in women often leads to cervical cancer. Is risk of cancer also high with oral HPV?

By burcidi — On Jun 21, 2013

@donasmrs-- Yes, it is possible to pass oral HPV when there are no lesions. But I'm sure that open sores and lesions make it much more likely to pass it.

As far as I know, oral sex is the main way that oral HPV in men and women is spread. Apparently, it doesn't even pass through kissing or sharing utensils and such.

You should probably ask your doctor to clarify this because oral HPV is kind of rare and we might not know everything about it.

By donasmrs — On Jun 21, 2013

Is it possible to pass oral HPV when there are no lesions?

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