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Oral Warts: What to Do About Warts on Your Tongue

If you're experiencing a wart on your tongue or in your mouth, it's because you have oral HPV. The good news is that oral HPV is common and often benign, although it could lead to oral cancer. We'll break down how oral HPV is contracted, what symptoms you may experience, and when you should see a healthcare professional so you can feel confident about your health and wellbeing.

Learn about other tongue lesions.

What is HPV?

HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States. It's so common that, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly all sexually active men and women will be infected with the virus at some point in their lives.

There are almost 200 different types of HPV. If you have oral HPV, you probably got it from having oral sex. The CDC says about 10% of men and 3.6% of women have oral HPV. Your risk of HPV goes up along with your number of sexual partners, the more you use tobacco or alcohol, and if you have a weakened immune system.

Symptoms and Treatment for Oral HPV

Most often, oral HPV shows no symptoms at all. You could have oral HPV your whole life without knowing it, although it tends to go away on its own within 2 years without causing any health complications. When people get oral cancer from oral HPV, it usually afflicts people who have been living with the infection for a long time.

What Is Your Risk For Oral Cancer?

The Oral Cancer Foundation states that HPV is the leading cause of oropharyngeal cancers. In fact, it's believed that HPV causes 70% of these cancers. Oropharyngeal refers to the area around the back of your tongue, the walls of your throat, and your tonsils. The American Cancer Society predicts that in 2021, about 54,010 people will get oral cavity or oropharyngeal cancer and an estimated 10,850 people will die of these cancers. HPV16 is the type that most often leads to a cancer diagnosis.

People who are at the highest risk of oral cancer from HPV are:

  • White
  • Male
  • Between the ages of 35 to 55

And although men are 4 times as likely to get oral cancer from HPV than women, anybody who is sexually active is at risk.

Symptoms of Oral Cancer

When people have oral cancer linked to HPV, the first symptom they usually notice is a lump in their throat. Other potential symptoms of oral cancers include:

  • A sore throat
  • White or red patches in your mouth
  • Jaw pain
  • Swelling
  • Trouble swallowing

These symptoms are not definite signs that you have cancer, but if you're experiencing these conditions for more than two weeks, visit your healthcare professional for diagnosis and treatment. If you're coughing up blood, have a lump on your neck or in your cheek, or a rough or harsh feeling in your throat that doesn't go away, call your healthcare professional immediately.

Learn more about oral cancer.

How To Prevent HPV

There's no definite way to prevent HPV, but you can significantly limit your risk factors by:

  • Limiting the number of sexual partners you have
  • Practicing safe sex
    • This includes using a dental dam or condom when practicing oral sex.
  • Not smoking.
  • Limiting alcohol consumption.
  • Eating a nutritious diet and exercising.

A safe and effective HPV vaccine is available to prevent certain strains of HPV that could lead to cancer later in life. The CDC recommends that boys and girls get the vaccine between 11 and 12 years old, but notes they can get it as early as 9. You can get the vaccine up to age 45, but it's recommended you speak to your healthcare professional for their recommendation.

If you have a case of oral HPV that develops into cancer, catching it early will give you the best chances for a successful treatment. And if you don't have oral HPV at all, limiting your risk factors and getting a vaccination will give you the best chances of avoiding this common virus. Either way, we wish you good health and happiness!

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This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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