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HPV In Mouth : Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, and Prevention

HPV In Mouth : An Overview

Human papillomavirus (HPV) can affect the tongue, lips, and the inside of the mouth. This occurs when HPV enters a cut or opening in the mouth. Patients with HPV in the mouth experience symptoms like small, hard, bumps, or growth in their mouth which might be painless.

Sexually active people usually contract HPV at some point in their lifetime. Human papillomavirus is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the U.S.(1) Usually, HPV spreads by skin-to-skin contact Most individuals contract human papillomavirus (HPV) in their genital area via sexual intercourse. However, those who are engaged in oral sex, might contract it in their mouth or throat, and this is known as oral HPV or HPV in the mouth.

HPV In Mouth : Symptoms

Usually, people do not realize they have an HPV infection and are less likely to take the required steps to limit the spread of the infection. In specific cases, people start developing warts in their mouth or throat, however, it is less common.

This type of HPV can rarely turn into oropharyngeal cancer. Early symptoms of oropharyngeal cancer include trouble swallowing, coughing up blood, constant earaches, enlarged lymph nodes, unexplained weight loss, constant sore throats, lumps on the cheeks, and growths or lumps on the neck. 

Someone noticing any of these symptoms should consult with their doctor immediately.

HPV In Mouth : Statistics

Let us learn about some statistics related to HPV in the mouth.

  • In America, approximately 79 million people currently have HPV(1) and approximately 7% of them between the age group of 14 years to 69 years have oral HPV.(1) HPV in the mouth is more common in men than in women.
  • The most frequent subtype of oral HPV is HPV-16 and it is considered a high-risk type of HPV.
  • Oropharyngeal cancer is rare and just 1% of people have HPV-16. Less than 15, 000 individuals get HPV-positive oropharyngeal cancer every year.(2)

HPV In Mouth : Causes and Risk Factors

In general, oral sex and mouth-to-mouth contact between people spreads HPV. During mouth-to-mouth or mouth-to-genital contact, HPV particles in the mucus or saliva of an infected person enter another person without the infection through an open cut or sore in their mouth or throat.

HPV can also pass to babies during pregnancy. In certain cases, it can also spread through oral contact with contaminated utensils.

Risk factors for HPV in the mouth include :

Oral Sex: Increased oral sexual activity could be a risk factor for HPV in the mouth. Men, especially if they smoke are at a greater risk.(3)

Multiple Sexual Partners: Having multiple sexual partners increases the risk of getting HPV in the mouth. 

Open-Mouth Kissing: Some research has suggested that open-mouth kissing is a risk factor for the occurrence of HPV in the mouth.(3) However, further research is required to determine if it increases the risk of HPV in the mouth.

Smoking: One more risk factor for HPV in the mouth could be smoking. Smoking helps promote HPV invasion. Inhaling hot smoke makes one more vulnerable to tears and cuts in the mouth, and also increases the risk of developing oral cancers.

Drinking Alcohol: Drinking excess alcohol also puts you at a risk of developing HPV in the mouth. Research has pointed out that a high intake of alcohol increases the risk of HPV infections in males.(4)

Being Male: Being a male also puts you at a higher of getting a diagnosis of HPV than being a female.

NOTE: Age is a risk factor for oropharyngeal cancer since it is more commonly seen in older adults.

HPV In Mouth : Diagnosis

HPV cannot be easily diagnosed. A PCR or polymerase chain reaction test is the most useful test for human papillomavirus.

This PCR test takes a tiny fragment of the DNA that has to be extracted from cells in a sample of mucus and amplifies it, thus creating countless identical copies. Having numerous copies of the DNA fragment helps scientists look inside cells and detect even minute abnormalities or viral DNA.

However, in rare cases, if lesions are found in the mouth, your doctor can diagnose HPV just through a physical examination.

HPV In Mouth : Treatments

There is currently no treatment to cure HPV or even reduce its growth. Various topical medications have been tried and tested on HPV growths but they had no effect. However, some possible treatments could include:

Surgery: Surgical removal to treat the HPV growths in the mouth.

Cryotherapy: Some doctors use cryotherapy with liquid nitrogen to freeze and remove the HPV growths.

Injection: Interferon alfa-2B injection is also one of the treatments for HPV in the mouth.

NOTE: Once someone has been diagnosed with HPV in the mouth, they will have to undergo testing for HPV every eight to twelve months until the infection has cleared.(5)

HPV In Mouth : Prevention

Some of the preventive measures for HPV in the mouth include:

  • Practice safe sex and prevent sexually transmitted infections like HPV.
  • Limit the number of sexual partners.
  • If you are sexually active, get yourself tested for STIs regularly.
  • Avoid oral sex, if you are with an unfamiliar partner.
  • Use dental dams when having oral sex to prevent any sexually transmitted infection, including HPV in the mouth.
  • Get vaccinated against HPV

Vaccination Against HPV

For ages nine to fourteen, the vaccination against HOV involves getting two shots spaced six to twelve months apart. However, people aged fifteen and over should get three shots over six months. All the shots of the vaccine should be taken.

Previously, the vaccine was only available to people up to twenty-six years. However, new guidelines state that individuals between the ages of twenty-seven and forty-five who have not been vaccinated for HPV earlier are now eligible for the vaccine named Gardasil 9 (an HPV vaccine).

A study conducted in 2017 states that oral HPV infections were 88% lower among young adults who received at least one dose of the vaccine against HPV.(6) These HOV vaccines help prevent oropharyngeal cancers associated with HPV.

Final Words

HPV or human papillomavirus in the mouth occurs when HPV enters through a cut or tear in the mouth. Symptoms of HPV in the mouth include small, hard, bumps on the tongue, lips, or the inside of the mouth. Proper monitoring of the symptoms, appropriate diagnosis, and prompt treatment can help in reducing the symptoms. Taking necessary precautions, such as having safe oral sex and avoiding multiple sexual partners, can help in reducing the spread of HPV from one person to another.


Team PainAssist
Team PainAssist
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Team PainAssist, Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:February 19, 2024

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