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Updated on September 14, 2022

Oral STDs - Symptoms, Causes, Prevention & Treatment

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What are Oral STDs?

Oral STDs are sexually transmitted diseases that are spread through oral sex. These diseases can affect the mouth, throat, genitals, and other body parts.

Unprotected sex and having many sexual partners can increase your risk of getting an STD, including ones transmitted via oral sex.

Bacteria, viruses, and parasites that can be spread through oral sex include:1

  • Human papillomavirus (HPV)
  • Chlamydia trachomatis (chlamydia)
  • Neisseria gonorrhoeae (gonorrhea)
  • Herpes simplex virus
  • Treponema pallidum (syphilis)
  • Trichomonas vaginalis (trichomoniasis)
  • Hepatovirus A and B (hepatitis)
  • Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)
young couple smiling in the city during sunny day 1

What Do Oral STDs Look Like?

Depending on the cause, an oral STD may cause a rash, sores, or discharge in or around the mouth, throat, and other parts of the body.

STI vs. STD 

STI and STD are almost the same. An STI is a sexually transmitted infection that may or may not show symptoms. An STD is a sexually transmitted disease, which by definition includes symptoms.

All STDs result from STIs, but not all STIs become STDs. Some infections are asymptomatic and are only detected by incidental medical testing.

8 Different Types of Oral STIs

1. Human papillomavirus (HPV)

HPV is the most common STI in the world. It’s estimated that 80% of men and women will have acquired it by age 45.2, 3

Most HPV infections come and go without causing trouble, being cleared by the immune system within a couple of years. However, some virus variants can produce serious symptoms, including cancer.

Symptoms

Some variants of HPV can cause warts (papillomas) to appear in areas such as:

  • Your mouth and throat, which can cause respiratory and speaking difficulties
  • Your anus and genitals
  • Other parts of your skin

These warts aren’t cancerous but can increase your risk for skin, anal, genital, and other cancers.

Other variants of HPV, while not causing warts, are directly responsible for certain kinds of cancer. The vast majority of cervical cancers are caused by HPV. Most oropharyngeal (throat) cancers in non-smokers are also caused by HPV.

Causes

HPV can be spread through any contact with the genitals of an infected person. Oral contact with the genitals or anus of someone with HPV can cause it to enter your mouth and throat.

Cases of non-smoking-related head and neck cancers in men have risen over the past few decades. This is partly due to the prevalence of oral sex with multiple partners.2, 3

Treatment

There is no specific treatment for HPV. Warts caused by HPV can be removed, though in some cases, they may come back. Like other cancers, HPV-related cancers can be treated with chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery.

Several vaccines are available for cancer-causing variants of HPV, but they don’t prevent symptoms in people who are already infected with HPV.

2. Chlamydia

Chlamydia is the most common bacterial STI. It’s more likely to affect women than men. It may not cause any symptoms initially, and in many cases the immune system can clear it out. But it can have serious complications if left untreated.4, 5

Symptoms

Chlamydia often has no symptoms, leading many women not to seek treatment.4 But if symptoms are present, they may include:

  • Genital inflammation and discharge
  • Painful urination
  • Vaginal bleeding
  • A sore throat, if affecting the throat

Untreated chlamydia can lead to complications such as:4, 5

  • Infertility
  • Ectopic pregnancies
  • Pelvic inflammation
  • Lymphatic infections
  • Blindness

Causes

Chlamydia can be spread via any kind of sex, including oral sex.

Treatment

Chlamydia can be treated with antibiotics, generally taken in pill form over a course lasting several days or weeks.

3. Gonorrhea

Gonorrhea is the second most common bacterial STI after chlamydia, and it’s especially common among young adults. It becomes resistant to antibiotics quickly, making treatment more complicated over time.6

Symptoms

Gonorrhea is often asymptomatic in women and symptomatic in men. If contracted from oral sex, it may affect the throat and cause inflammation (or a sore throat).7 When other symptoms are present, they may include:

  • Painful urination
  • Testicular pain
  • Rectal pain
  • Abnormal bleeding from the uterus
  • Pain during sex

Causes

Gonorrhea can be acquired through sexual contact, including oral sex. Sex workers, men who have sex with men (MSM), and people with multiple sexual partners are more likely to be infected.6

Treatment

Gonorrhea is treated with antibiotics. The specific antibiotics used may differ depending on whether the infection affects the throat or anal and genital areas.

Unfortunately, new strains of gonorrhea have evolved in recent years that are resistant to many antibiotics.6, 7 However, many effective antibiotics remain available, and gonorrhea is generally curable.6

You should re-test if your symptoms don’t go away after a full course of antibiotics.

4. Herpes

Herpes is a viral infection that often causes distinctive blisters, commonly known as cold sores. It can be transmitted sexually or through any contact with the blisters of an infected person.

This condition can be caused by two types of herpes simplex virus, known as HSV-1 and HSV-2.8, 9

Symptoms

The cold sores caused by HSV-1 and HSV-2 can affect:

  • Lips, mouth, and throat
  • Genital and anal areas

It’s possible to be infected with herpes and never show any symptoms. Some people with the herpes virus experience occasional flare-ups of cold sores caused by stress and other factors.

Though rare, herpes can also cause an infection of the esophagus. It may result in difficulty or pain when swallowing and a fever.

Causes

Herpes can be spread by contact with a cold sore, including sex, touching, or kissing. It can also be spread when there are no visible sores or other symptoms.

Treatment

HSV-1 and HSV-2 both cause lifelong infections which can’t be cured. Fortunately, they’re often asymptomatic or only flare up occasionally. Antiviral medications can help manage cold sore outbreaks.

5. Syphilis

Syphilis is a bacterial disease that can have a wide range of symptoms.

Syphilis isn’t as common or as devastating as it once was, but it still requires treatment. It can co-occur with HIV or AIDS.10

Symptoms

Syphilis is sometimes referred to as “the great imitator” because its symptoms can resemble other infections. These include:

  • Ulcers or lesions on the genitals or mouth
  • Rashes on various parts of the body
  • Fever
  • Headache

These symptoms are referred to as primary and secondary syphilis because they tend to occur in the first few weeks after infection. The infection may become dormant, remaining in the body but not showing any more symptoms.

If syphilis is left untreated, many people with dormant syphilis will eventually develop tertiary syphilis, which can cause life-threatening heart, neurological, and other problems.

Causes

Syphilis can be spread through sexual contact with an infected person and from mother to child during pregnancy or childbirth.

Treatment

Syphilis can be treated with antibiotics, usually a single dose of penicillin.10

6. Trichomoniasis

Trichomoniasis, or trich, is an infection caused by a parasite called Trichomonas vaginalis (TV). Even though it may be as common as gonorrhea or chlamydia, it isn’t as commonly tested for.11

Symptoms

More than half of people infected with TV don’t experience any symptoms. When symptoms are present, they may include:

  • Genital itching and redness
  • Genital discharge
  • Pain during urination

Trichomoniasis can also affect your throat if you’ve given oral sex to someone whose genitals were infected.12

Causes

Any kind of sexual activity could spread trichomoniasis. Smoking also appears to be a risk factor.11

Treatment

Trichomoniasis can be eliminated with antibiotics, typically metronidazole or tinidazole.11, 12, 13

7. Hepatitis A and B

Hepatitis A and B are viral infections that cause liver inflammation.

Symptoms

Symptoms of hepatitis include:

  • Fever
  • Nausea or loss of appetite
  • Abdominal pain
  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes)
  • Dark urine
  • Fatigue

Causes

The viruses that cause hepatitis can be spread through oral or other sexual contact, especially involving the anus. This is because the viruses are often found in fecal matter.14

Treatment

Hepatitis A and B are likely to be cleared by the body’s immune system within a few weeks. Your doctor may recommend resting and avoiding sexual activity while it takes its course.

In some cases, however, hepatitis B can become a chronic infection, resulting in complications such as liver cancer.

Medications are available to help your immune system fight a chronic hepatitis infection. A vaccine is also available for hepatitis B.

8. HIV

The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is a virus that affects the immune system. Without specific treatment, it can lead to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), which can have severe complications.

Symptoms

HIV infection may cause flu-like symptoms at the time of infection or may show no symptoms for years. Over time, however, it can weaken the immune system, leading to AIDS.

HIV and AIDS can make it easier to become ill due to other infections, allowing complications to arise that wouldn’t otherwise be present. These can include several kinds of cancer.

AIDS can cause other systemic symptoms, such as fevers, sweats, and unintended weight loss.

Causes

HIV is often transmitted through vaginal or anal sex or from mother to child during pregnancy or childbirth. It can sometimes spread through oral sex.1

Treatment

HIV can’t be cured, but it can be treated with various antiviral medications.15

STD and STI Prevention

You can reduce your risk of acquiring an STI and avoid more serious symptoms if you’re infected by:

  • Using condoms, dental dams, or other barrier methods
  • Avoiding or limiting certain kinds of sexual activity or your number of sexual partners
  • Discussing any risks or known prior infections with your sexual partner
  • Getting screened regularly for STIs
  • Obtaining treatment for an STI or STD as early as possible

How to Test for Oral STDs

You can get tested for infections by asking your doctor or attending a clinic. There are different testing methods depending on what’s being tested for. These can include:

  • A swab of a sore or affected area (for chlamydia, gonorrhea, herpes, or syphilis)
  • A urine sample (may also be used for chlamydia or gonorrhea)
  • A blood sample (may be used for syphilis or HIV)
  • A Pap test or Pap smear (HPV)

What’s the Outlook for STIs?

Some STIs are lifelong and can’t be eliminated, while others can be definitively cured with antibiotics. However, even lifelong STIs can often be managed with the right treatment.

If you get treatment for an STI as early as possible, you’re more likely not to have recurring symptoms. Some STIs, like HPV, are extremely common and may go unnoticed.

Summary

Various infections can be spread through sexual contact, including oral sex. Using protection during sex (including oral sex), limiting your number of sexual partners, and regular screening for STIs can all help reduce your chances of contracting an infection.

STIs can generally be treated, and some can be cured. Talk to your doctor if you notice any unusual changes or symptoms affecting your mouth, throat, genitals, or other body parts.

15 Sources Cited
Last updated on September 14, 2022
All NewMouth content is medically reviewed and fact-checked by a licensed dentist or orthodontist to ensure the information is factual, current, and relevant.

We have strict sourcing guidelines and only cite from current scientific research, such as scholarly articles, dentistry textbooks, government agencies, and medical journals. This also includes information provided by the American Dental Association (ADA), the American Association of Orthodontics (AAO), and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
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  2. Kombe Kombe, Arnaud John, et al. "Epidemiology and Burden of Human Papillomavirus and Related Diseases, Molecular Pathogenesis, and Vaccine Evaluation." Frontiers in Public Health vol. 8 .
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  10. Peeling, Rosanna W, et al. “Syphilis.” Nature reviews. Disease primers vol. 3 17073.
  11. Tompkins, Erin L. "Prevalence and risk factors for Trichomonas vaginalis infection among adults in the U.S., 2013–2014." PLOS ONE 15,6 : e0234704.
  12. Carter-Wicker, Kitty, et al. “Can trichomoniasis cause pharyngitis? A case report.” SAGE open medical case reports vol. 4 : 2050313X16682132.
  13. Meites, Elissa et al. "A Review of Evidence-Based Care of Symptomatic Trichomoniasis and Asymptomatic Trichomonas vaginalis Infections." Clinical Infectious Diseases vol. 61, Suppl. 8 : S837-S848.
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