Oral STDs: Causes, Symptoms, Testing, Treatment and Prevention

Oral STDs - STDTestGuru
Oral STDs – STDTestGuru

The sexually transmitted disease is transmitted from one person to another through sexual contact and is caused by bacteria, viruses, and parasites. It is important to note that anal and vaginal sex is not the only way STDs are transmitted. STD can also be passed from genitals to mouth or throat and vice versa. It is possible to have an STD in more than one area at the same time.

Oral STDs are not always noticeable. But when they cause symptoms, it includes a sore throat or sores around the mouth or throat. Having oral sex without a condom puts a person at risk of many types of sexually transmissible diseases. According to CDC, more than 85% of adults (aged 18-44 years) who are sexually active reported having had oral sex at least once with a partner of the opposite sex.

What are oral STDs?

Oral sex is when any person’s mouth, tongue, or lips comes into contact with another person’s genitals or anus. This can affect multiple parts of the body, including the mouth, throat, genitals, and rectum. While oral sex on a woman is called cunnilingus, oral sex on a man is called fellatio and when oral sex involves the anus it is called anilingus. But, the risk of contracting most STIs from oral sex is lower when compared to vaginal or anal sex. But still, there is the risk of transmission.

STIs like chlamydia, herpes, gonorrhea, syphilis, and HPV can be transmitted orally. However, there is little to no risk for HIV from oral sex. They can pass from one person’s mouth to their partner’s genitals or anus, and vice versa. And the infection can spread even when the infected person has no signs or symptoms. Using a dental dam, a condom can reduce the risk of giving/getting oral STDs.

Oral STDs signs

  • Sores in the mouth
  • Lesions
  • Fever blisters around the mouth
  • Swollen tonsils
  • Lymph nodes
  • Difficulty in swallowing
  • Sore throat
  • Redness with white spots

Which STD can be passed on from oral sex?

Sexually transmitted diseases like chlamydia, herpes, gonorrhea, syphilis, and HPV can be transmitted through oral sex.

1. Oral Chlamydia

The sexually transmitted infection caused by the bacteria Chlamydia trachomatis is called chlamydia. An infected person can pass on chlamydia through unprotected oral, anal, or vaginal sex or through genital contact. The bacteria chlamydia trachomatis typically infects and causes symptoms in the location they first entered the body. This infection can affect many organs, which include the penis, vagina, cervix, urethra, anus, eye, and throat. Often, a person with chlamydia infection may not have symptoms.

When chlamydia affects the throat, it causes no symptoms. But when symptoms do appear, they include a sore throat. The doctors termed chlamydia in the throat as a pharyngeal chlamydia infection. In addition, getting oral sex from someone who has contracted a chlamydia infection of the throat can also transmit the bacteria to the genitals. This infection is not a lifelong condition, it can be cured when treated with the right antibiotics.

Oral Chlamydia Symptoms:

  • Sore throat
  • Sores around lips & mouth
  • Dental problems
  • Mouth pain
  • Mouth sores (which doesn’t heal)

Oral Chlamydia Testing

Usually, a urine sample is used to diagnose chlamydia, but this doesn’t help in diagnosing chlamydia in the throat. So, the doctors may recommend a swab test. The swab is sent to a laboratory to look for the presence of DNA from the bacteria that cause chlamydia.

Oral Chlamydia Treatment

Antibiotics like azithromycin are usually prescribed in a single, large dose, and doxycycline is taken twice per day for about one week. The same antibiotics are prescribed to treat chlamydia in the groin and may also be prescribed to treat chlamydia in the throat. During the treatment, it is important for an infected person to avoid oral sex or intercourse for at least 7 days.

Risk factor of Oral Chlamydia

When a person has chlamydia in the throat, it can make them more vulnerable to other infections. And this may lead to problems like mouth infections, dental pain, tooth loss, and gum disease.

2. Oral Herpes

This is a highly contagious sexually transmitted disease (STDs) and it is caused by the Herpes simplex virus. Herpes simplex type 1 can be passed on through oral secretions or sores on the skin. It can also be transmitted through kissing, sharing objects like toothbrushes, or eating utensils. One can contact herpes type 2 during sexual contact with someone who has a genital HSV-2 infection. And genital herpes can be passed on from a pregnant woman to the baby during childbirth.

Of the two viruses, cold sores are most commonly caused by HSV-1. When a person gets oral sex from a partner with herpes on the lips, mouth, or throat, it can result in getting herpes on the genital area, anus, or in rectum. The infection can occur on the mouth, throat, lips, genital area, buttocks, anus, or rectum. It is estimated that 50-80% of US adults are infected with oral herpes.

Oral Herpes symptoms

  • Painful sores (which makes difficulty in eating and drinking)
  • Sores may occur on the roof of the mouth, lips, gums, front of the tongue, inside of cheeks, and in the throat
  • Ulcers and blisters in or around the mouth
  • The neck lymph nodes often swell
  • The gums may become mildly swollen and red and may cause bleeding
  • Irritation/burning sensation in the infected area

Oral Herpes Testing

Doctors may conduct a physical examination and may recommend laboratory tests.

  • Sample from the sores which is used to identify the virus
  • Antigen and antibody studies
  • Blood sampling for antibody studies
  • Culture analysis
  • A staining test called the Tzanck smear

Treatment for Oral Herpes

Cold sores usually go away within 1-2 weeks. It can be treated with antiviral medications, which include acyclovir or topical antiviral creams such as docosanol (Abreva). These medications will reduce the pain and shorten the healing time.

Risk Factor of Oral Herpes

When this condition is left untreated, due to oral HSV, the infected person may find it difficult to eat or drink because of the pain. And the infection may spread to other parts of the body or even to other people.

3. Oral Gonorrhea

Sexually transmitted disease caused by the bacteria Neisseria gonorrhoeae is called gonorrhea. This infection is mainly spread through sex (anal sex, vaginal intercourse, and oral intercourse) and blood. It can affect the throat, genitals, urinary tract, and rectum.

Oral gonorrhea is also termed pharyngeal gonorrhea. Mostly, gonorrhea infections in the throat have no symptoms. But when symptoms do appear, they can include a sore throat. When the throat gets affected, it looks like a strep throat with redness and rarely people may have some white spots or whitish/yellow discharge. The rate of oral gonorrhea is particularly high in gay and bisexual men. Some STD clinics reporting that up to 6.5% of men who have sex with men have pharyngeal gonorrhea.

Oral Gonorrhea Symptoms

  • Sore throat
  • Redness in the throat
  • Swollen lymph nodes in the neck
  • Fever

When a person has pharyngeal gonorrhea, they can also have a gonorrhea infection in another part of the body, like in the cervix or urethra. In such cases, people may have other symptoms of gonorrhea which include pain during intercourse, unusual vaginal or penile discharge, pain or burning when urinating, swollen testicles, or swollen lymph nodes in the groin.

Oral Gonorrhea Testing

Usually, the gonorrhea urine test is done, to check for the presence of gonorrhea bacteria. For oral gonorrhea, a swab test is done by taking samples from the mouth. Sometimes, swab samples are taken from the anus, vagina, or from the opening of the urethra to ensure a bacterial infection doesn’t go undetected elsewhere in your body.

Oral Gonorrhea Treatment

Treatment for gonorrhea typically includes a single injection of ceftriaxone (250 milligrams) and a single dose of oral azithromycin (1 gram). Any person who is undergoing treatment should avoid all sexual contact, including oral sex and kissing, for seven days after completing treatment. And should avoid sharing food and drinks, as gonorrhea can be transmitted through saliva.

Risk Factor of Oral Gonorrhea

If this condition is left untreated, pharyngeal gonorrhea can spread through the bloodstream to other parts of the body. And this can lead to systemic gonococcal infection, also known as the disseminated gonococcal infection that can cause joint pain and swelling, and skin sores.

4. Oral Syphilis

Syphilis is a common infection worldwide caused by Treponema Pallidum bacteria. One can get syphilis through direct contact with syphilitic chancres. It can also spread through cuts on the skin or through mucous membranes. Occasionally, it spreads through direct unprotected close contact with an active lesion (for instance kissing) or infected mothers to infants during childbirth or pregnancy.

Syphilis is spread through oral sex when treponema pallidum bacteria enter a cut or opening in the lining of the lips or mouth. Lesions typically appear where the bacteria entered your body. A chancre is painless and is one of the first signs of syphilis in the mouth.

Oral syphilis Symptoms

It can be a bit difficult to spot oral syphilis. Because they look like many other conditions, including a pimple. In the first stage (primary syphilis), infected people may have painless sore/chancre in the mouth (even in genitals, or rectum). And the second stage (secondary syphilis), they may experience a skin rash, swollen lymph nodes, and fever.

Oral Syphilis Testing

The doctor or dentist will draw blood or take a fluid sample from the sore for further testing. Even biopsy of tissue or fluid is used occasionally, to diagnose oral syphilis.

Oral Syphilis Treatment

Oral syphilis is treatable in its early stages. The treatment for most oral syphilis is the antibiotic benzathine penicillin G. It’s important to abstain from sexual contact with new partners until the sores are completely healed.

Risk Factor of Oral Syphilis

Treatment is essential, when syphilis is left untreated it can cause serious health problems such as organ damage and significant neurological outcomes.

5. Oral HPV

Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is a viral infection that causes warts on various parts of the body and is transmitted through skin to skin and genital contact. Most of the time people do not have any symptoms. However, some types of HPV can lead to certain types of cancer or genital warts.

When a person engages in oral sex, they may contract HPV in the mouth or throat. When HPV enters the body through a cut or small tear inside of the mouth it results in oral HPV. Nearly, 7% of Americans aged 14 to 69 have oral HPV. This viral infection is more common in men than in women.

Oral HPV Symptoms

Some types of HPV may cause laryngeal or respiratory papillomatosis and it affects the mouth and throat. Symptoms include:

  • Warts in the throat
  • Difficulty speaking
  • Vocal changes
  • Shortness of breath

Oral HPV Testing

There is no test is available to determine if a person has HPV on the mouth. The dentist or doctor may discover lesions through a cancer screening. When lesions are present, doctors may perform a biopsy to see if the lesions are cancerous.

Oral HPV Treatment

Most types of oral HPV can go away before they cause any health issues. When a person develops oral warts due to HPV, the doctor will likely remove warts. Following methods to treat warts:

  • Surgical removal
  • Cryotherapy
  • Interferon alfa-2B (Intron A, Roferon-A)

Risk factor of Oral HPV

Many other HPV types that affect the mouth and throat may not cause warts, but it may lead to head or neck cancer. And few types of HPV can cause oropharyngeal cancer.

Oral STDs: Symptoms and Statistics
Oral STDs: Symptoms and Statistics

Can HIV be given orally?

HIV is commonly spread through vaginal and anal sex. As per CDC, the risk for spreading/acquiring HIV through oral sex is extremely low. Presently, there is no effective cure for HIV, but it can be controlled with proper medical care. People can live long and lead a healthy life by taking Antiretroviral Therapy (ART). The virus is transmitted between partners when the fluids of one person come into contact with the bloodstream of another person

HIV is present in body fluids like vaginal secretions and semen. The chances of getting HIV are higher when a person

  • Have sores in your mouth, vagina, or penis
  • Experience bleeding gums
  • Have another sexually transmitted disease (STD)
  • Are in oral contact with menstrual blood

Incubation period

Each and every STD has its own incubation period. For certain STDs, the body begins to produce antibodies and symptoms in few days, or it can take weeks or months for symptoms to appear. Following are the incubation period for the oral STDs:

  • Chlamydia – 7 to 21 days
  • Herpes – 2 to 12 days
  • Gonorrhea – 1 to 14 days
  • Syphilis – 3 weeks to 20 years (depends on the type)
  • HPV – 1 month to 10 years (depends on the type)
  • HIV – 2 to 4 weeks

How to get tested for oral STDs?

Once the incubation period has passed, most STDs can be diagnosed through antibody-specific blood tests. Testing can include any of the tests viz using a cotton swab in the infected area such as mouth, throat, vagina, anus, or penis, blood sample, or a urine sample.


Following are the ways to prevent oral STDs.

  • Avoid brushing the teeth before oral sex
  • Skip oral sex during risky times (when you have sores or other STDs)
  • Get regular tests for STDs
  • Be in a mutually monogamous relationship

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