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Warts are small, raised, fleshy bumps that can form anywhere on the body. They're usually harmless and painless. However, warts on the tongue can be uncomfortable and make eating or talking difficult.
Tongue warts are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is a group of more than 200 related viruses.1
Different virus strains cause oral warts, genital warts, and warts on other parts of the body. The virus is transmitted through sexual and skin-to-skin contact and can pass easily between people. Oral HPV is common, affecting around 7.5% of adults in the United States.2
Most tongue warts do not require treatment and go away within a few months. But because some types can increase the risk of oral cancer, it's essential to see a doctor for an evaluation.3
Various HPV infections cause warts on the tongue. HPV spreads through skin-to-skin contact, including oral sex and kissing.
A person with HPV carries it in their saliva and mucus. It can then spread to a partner if these fluids come into contact with an open sore or cut in the mouth or genitals.3
HPV can also spread if someone touches a wart of their own or on someone else's skin, then puts their finger in their mouth. The virus causes an excess of a rough, hard protein called keratin to develop in the skin and mucosa. The keratin then develops into a tongue wart.
However, not everyone who comes into contact with HPV develops warts. Some immune systems are more effective at fighting the HPV virus than others, and many people don't have any symptoms. If you have a weakened immune system, you may be more likely to develop warts on the oral mucosa.
Depending on the HPV strain, several types of warts can form on the tongue. They include:3
These harmless lesions have a cauliflower-like appearance and are supported by a stem. Although they can develop anywhere in the oral cavity, they usually affect the tongue, inside the cheeks, and lips. HPV strains 6 and 11 cause these warts.
Also called common warts, these have a raised, rough surface. They often form on the hands but can appear anywhere on the body, including the tongue. They are more common in children and usually go away without treatment. HPV strains 2 and 4 cause them.
These lesions usually occur in the genital area but can spread to the tongue through sexual activity. They're pink or white with a cauliflower-like surface and are associated with HPV 2, 6, and 11.
Also known as Heck's disease, these appear as raised white or pink warts on the tongue. HPV strains 13 and 32 are linked to this condition.
Other small oral lesions can be mistaken for tongue warts. These include:
In most cases, tongue warts are not dangerous and go away on their own. Nine in 10 cases clear up without treatment within 2 years.4
But because they can be cosmetically concerning and sometimes make it difficult to eat, talk, or breathe, many people opt for treatment.
Some types of HPV are high-risk, meaning they can lead to oral, genital, and cervical cancers.5 Experts estimate that HPV is responsible for 70% of cancer cases of the throat, tonsils, and base of the tongue (oropharyngeal cancer).6
Often, oropharyngeal cancer does not cause symptoms in the early stages. When symptoms do occur, they may include:7
Warts may eventually go away on their own without treatment. However, this can take months or even years. Because they can be a nuisance, many people opt to remove them.
There are several ways to treat warts on the tongue:8
Most warts are benign and won't cause serious problems. They typically go away on their own, but treatment can speed recovery.
If you have warts in your mouth, you might eventually develop oropharyngeal cancer. But this is rare. If you're concerned about your warts or their appearance, talk to your doctor about treatment options.
Also, see your doctor if you develop any new symptoms, such as a sore throat or trouble swallowing.
Yes, the HPV vaccination can help prevent warts on the tongue and other areas of the body.
The HPV vaccine is recommended for children ages 11 to 12, but it’s safe as early as 9. Doctors recommended teens and young adults up to age 26 who have not been vaccinated or completed the vaccine series also get the HPV vaccine.9
Other preventative measures, such as using condoms and dams during sexual contact, can lower your risk of tongue warts. These products create a barrier between the skin and lower the risk of contracting the virus.
Avoiding alcohol and tobacco products also lowers the risk of developing oral cancer, especially if you have tongue warts.6
Tongue warts are small, harmless bumps of flesh on the tongue. They're caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV) and are contagious. In most cases, they go away without treatment within 2 years. But if they're uncomfortable, a doctor can remove them.
Rarely, HPV can lead to cancer, including oropharyngeal cancer. Symptoms include a sore throat, pain when swallowing, and ear pain.
You can lower your risk of tongue warts by getting the HPV vaccine and using condoms and dams during sexual contact.
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