Oral warts are abnormal raised bumps that appear on the lips and within the mucous membranes of the mouth. They are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV), a group of incurable viruses that are most commonly spread through sexual activity. Most warts appear as single lesions and do not cause pain or discomfort, though an especially large wart can make swallowing difficult. Left untreated, mouth lesions can occasionally turn malignant and spread to other parts of the body. If a person notices warts in the mouth, he or she typically should seek medical evaluation to receive a proper diagnosis and learn about different treatment measures.
HPV strains that produce oral warts are usually contracted through oral sex. It is possible, however, that the virus spreads by kissing or sharing oral hygiene products with an infected individual. People with weakened immune systems due to illnesses or immunosuppressive disorders are more likely to contract HPV.
Most oral warts develop as small bumps on the lips, gums, inner cheeks, or the roof of the mouth. A wart may be isolated or appear in a cluster with other lesions. They usually feel rough to the touch and appear discolored, slightly more red or white than the surrounding healthy tissue. Warts are rarely painful, but they can be in annoying spots in the mouth that make eating, swallowing, and speaking uncomfortable.
A doctor or dentist usually can diagnose warts by visually inspecting the lesions and taking a tissue biopsy to check for malignancies. A blood or saliva test may also be performed to confirm the presence of HPV. Once an accurate diagnosis can be made, the medical professional can determine the appropriate course of treatment.
Cryotherapy and electrocautery are common procedures for small, singular warts. A specialist can freeze a wart using cryotherapy tools and liquid nitrogen, which kills the tissue and prompts it to fall off. A wart can also be burned off with a laser in an electrocautery procedure. For a large lesion, a surgeon can cut the wart out with a scalpel and suture healthy tissue back together. Warts on the inner and outer lips are usually treated with topical ointments to shrink them.
HPV cannot be cured with medications, and warts are likely to return even after successful treatment. Patients are advised to practice good oral hygiene and inform their sexual partners of their condition to prevent the spread of the virus. Regular checkups with oral specialists typically are important to ensure that warts are immediately treated and that they do not turn cancerous.