Can having a sexually transmitted infection affect your oral health? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are approximately 20 million new cases of sexually transmitted diseases reported each year — and some of these diseases come with symptoms that can affect your mouth. Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are contracted through various forms of sexual activity. Oral sex is a common practice among sexually active adults of all ages and orientations, and it can result in the disease taking hold in the tissues surrounding the contact area. Some infections are more likely to affect the mouth than others. The most common STDs of the mouth are herpes, chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis. Keep in mind it’s also possible to contract illnesses such as Hepatitis A, B and C, as well as other gastrointestinal infections. While not all STDs are curable, they are treatable. Your dentist is an important part of your healthcare team. Use this guide to learn how these infections can impact your mouth.
How are STDs transmitted?
The main method of transmitting STDs of the mouth is through contact with bodily fluids. In most cases, the presence of oral sores causes fluids from an infected partner’s genitals to enter the body, and a localized infection develops. Diseases can also be transmitted from the mouth of an infected person to the genitals of his or her partner. Mouth to mouth transmission is possible to through kissing or sharing a beverage.
What are the symptoms to look for?
Symptoms depend on the type of STD contracted. Symptoms that could indicate an oral STD include:
- Sores in the mouth, which may be painless.
- Lesions similar to cold sores and fever blisters around the mouth.
- Red, painful throat and difficulty swallowing.
- Redness with white spots resembling strep throat.
- Whitish or yellow discharge.
Often, an oral STD doesn’t produce any noticeable symptoms. So, it’s important to be aware of both your own oral health and that of your partner as best you can.
What are the typical STDs that affect the mouth?
- Oral Herpes: Herpes is the most common oral STD in the United States and is present in more than half the adult population. Many contract the disease as children by getting a kiss from a family member or friend that is infected. It is transmitted by direct contact between broken skin at the site of the infection, and the recipient’s healthy tissue. Oral herpes can be transmitted to genital tissue, even when the carrier has no symptoms. Herpes causes oral blisters varying in color and appearance, which are painful when they burst. They usually heal in seven to 10 days, but can break out again at any time. Some patients also develop fever or fatigue.
- Gonorrhea: Affecting the tissue of the mouth and throat, oral gonorrhea is transmitted by contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person. Skin contact alone is enough to transfer the bacteria. Oral symptoms of gonorrhea include a burning sensation and pain in the patient’s mouth and throat, accompanied by swollen glands and white spots on the tissue. A throat swab enables the doctor to test for this disease. If diagnosed, it can be treated with antibiotics.
- Syphilis: This bacterial infection is transmitted through sexual contact with an infected site that has one or more lesions present. The sores usually exist around the genital areas, anus, rectum, lips or mouth, and are acquired when a healthy person is exposed to direct contact with the virus in a person carrying it. Patients frequently develop firm, painless, non-itchy skin sores on the mouth tissue or genital area. Syphilis sufferers in later stages could experience soft, non-cancerous growths or a rash in the mouth, similar to those on palms and soles.
What is the normal treatment for oral STDs?
Your form of treatment will differ depending on the type of STD you have and its severity. Mild oral herpes, for example, can be treated through the prescription of a topical anesthetic to reduce the pain from oral blisters and lesions while the immune system works to restore your oral health. In more severe cases, however, anti-viral medications can help to speed up the process. A solution such as a mouth sore rinse is recommended by dental professionals to cleanse and soothe canker sores, denture and mouth irritations.
Oral gonorrhea is usually treated with a range of antibiotics called cephalosporins; however, the emergence of drug-resistant strains is causing concern among medical practitioners, so it’s important for patients to follow treatment instructions very diligently.
Syphilis is most commonly treated with penicillin, whereas oral chlamydia is treated with antibiotics such as azithromycin or doxycycline.
What can I do to control or prevent STDs?
The only way to prevent yourself from contracting an oral STD is to practice safe sex, including safe oral sex. You should also maintain a high standard of oral hygiene, which reduces your risk for developing any type of sore or infection in the mouth.
If you’ve had any of these STDs of the mouth in the past and received treatment for them, it’s possible for you to contract the same or a different disease again if you have sexual contact with an infected partner. Oral herpes can remain dormant for some time and become active again down the line, particularly in patients who have weakened immune systems.
If you have any questions about STDs and your oral health, call Winning Smiles to schedule an appointment with your dentist – 716-332-2444.