Do you have small white bumps on your gums right where they meet your teeth? Or perhaps flat, flesh colored patches that are growing much faster than your surrounding skin? There are many common causes of mouth sores, such as canker sores or candida overgrowth. It could also be HPV, the virus that causes warts. If you are worried that you might have warts on your gums, this article will explain what they look like, what causes them and most importantly, how to get rid of them.
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Why Do I Have Gum Warts?
Gum warts are caused by the HPV virus. HPV is one of the most prevalent viruses that infects humans. It’s so widespread that a study showed 69% of the participants had HPV somewhere in their body.
The areas HPV is most likely to infect are:
- Skin – 61%,
- Genitals – 41%,
- Mouth – 30% and
- Gut – 17%.
So as you can see, if you have developed an oral wart, you are absolutely not alone.
What Causes Warts to Grow on Gums?
Warts can grow anywhere on your epithelial layer of the body. This includes skin, membranes and even the epithelial tissues that line the cavities of our digestive tract and reproductive tract, including the gut. So even though warts aren’t particularly common on the gums, they can and do occur.
Most often warts grow on gums because of a recent infection with the virus that causes warts. The virus can enter the gums through irritated tissues or a cut on the gums or oral cavity. This can include irritation caused by gingivitis or abrasions caused by a very hard toothbrush. Once the virus sets in, it causes the top layer of skin to grow faster than the surrounding layers, thus forming a tumor that we call a wart.
While warts usually pop up after a new infection, they can also occur after laying dormant in epithelial tissues for years. When this happens, it usually occurs because of a lowered immune system caused by stress, malnutrition or other infection that lowers immune response.
These raised bumps can show up on any part of your oral cavity, including your gums, tongue and throat.
- They will appear as one bump or a cluster and will usually have a very rough surface.
- Sometimes, they can be smooth, flat-topped, and the same color as the rest of your tissue.
- They may also look redder or whiter than the other healthy tissue that surrounds the wart.
- They can also appear as fronds that are long and thick.
Different strains of the virus tend to infect different parts of the body. The same is true in the case of oral warts. Read this article to learn more about different types of warts in the mouth.
Genital Wart on Gums
Oral warts are predominantly contracted through sexual activity. The incidence of oral HPV infections has increased over the past few decades because of an increase in oral sex. Of course, the warts on your gums are not genital warts. They are gum warts. But they are likely caused by the same subtype of virus that causes genital warts, and likely occurred through some form of contact between oral tissues and genital tissues. This can include secondary transmission routes such as hands. Transmission is also more likely after dental work or any other damage to the delicate tissues of the mouth.
You can reduce the possibility of contracting oral warts by using these preventative measures:
- Condoms or dental dams should be used for any type of sexual activity, including oral sex. While they do not guarantee prevention because they do not cover and protect all of your skin, they reduce the risk profoundly.
- Abstaining after dental work. Any type of sexual activity after dental work, including kissing, can increase the risk of transmitting all types of infections. This includes the virus that causes warts. It is best to wait until the mouth has completely healed.
- Don’t share makeup, toothbrushes or other oral care equipment as this can be an extremely efficient vector to transmit any type of infection.
Sharing lipstick is an especially bad idea because it can cause HPV infection leading to warts on lips. Read here for more tips on how to prevent these particularly bothersome warts.
There is actually still some debate as to whether warts that typically affect other parts of the body can infect the mouth and genitals. For instance, can a wart on the finger cause infection in these areas? The general consensus is that this is unlikely because it is caused by a different subtype of the virus. However, the jury is still out and some general practitioners and researchers believe that it is possible. Therefore, better to be safe than sorry and practice extremely good hygiene if one has warts other other parts of the body.
HPV Wart on Gums
Many of the HPV subtypes that are found in incidences of oral warts belong to the 40 known subtypes that also cause genital warts. The most common types that cause oral warts are HPV 6, 11, 13 and 32. The most dangerous ones are HPV-16 and HPV-18 because these are the wart subtypes that cause most cases of cervical cancer.
Thankfully, most of the HPV sub-types are not linked to oral cancer. In fact, of the 69% of people infected with HPV, only about 4% of them have HPV-16 or HPV-18.
So, chances are that if you have warts on your gums, you have one of the many other subtypes that do not cause cancer. That does not mean the infection is completely without complications, however. Warts can spread inside your oral cavity and cause warts in your throat. These are much harder to treat and can cause problems with swallowing. To learn more about warts in your throat, read here.
What Treatment Should I Use?
Oral warts are actually very easy to cure with the right treatment. Most of the time, this will require the help of a professional. You should never try to cauterize them, burn them off, or cut them off yourself however.
- First, some treatments are poisonous when ingested.
- Second, freezing delicate oral tissues is something that can only be safely done by a professional.
- Most important, your mouth’s anatomy includes quite a few blood vessels that will prove to be significant bleeders if you accidentally nick them in the process of cutting a wart off.
If you want to treat oral warts at home, you’ll need to use gentler methods, such as improving support for your immune system.
Here are a few things that you can try to speed up healing from the virus:
- Eat a well-balanced diet.
- Practice very good oral hygiene.
- Try Tagamet-it’s been shown in some studies to help the body eliminate the virus that causes warts, so it’s worth a try. (Remember to ask your doctor first.) Please see detailed descriptions here.
Of course, the best treatment is an ounce of prevention. You can’t completely eliminate your risk of exposure, but you can cut the risk down to almost nothing by following the prevention tips listed previously.
About 2/3rds of oral cancer cases test positive for HPV DNA. HPV-16 is the subtype that is most commonly associated with oral cancer. Roughly 1% of the population, both male and female have this HPV-16 subtype present in their body, although they show no signs of infection. This is another reason that it’s good to see a doctor for oral warts. Although rare, with early treatment oral cancers caused by HPV are among the most curable.
What is the Best Way to Treat Oral Warts on Gums?
The best way to treat oral warts on gums is to seek the help of a professional.
Your doctor will have some stronger weapons in his arsenal, including:
While they are very bothersome, oral warts usually completely resolve once treated. This includes cancers caused by oral warts. The cure rate for HPV caused cancers is very high, and the reoccurrence rate is very low. Almost all fatalities caused by HPV linked cancers happened because they were far too advanced when discovered. Seeking early treatment will help to ensure that this does not happen.