What is the most common way to get rid of oral warts? Eat proteins and take vitamins to boost your immune system so you can heal and get over the virus! Yes, warts are a virus! It can take six months to two years to get rid of the bumps. If you have them longer than six months, you should begin considering a biopsy and talk to your local dentist if they are oral lesions; if they last longer than two years, they should definitely be under a watchful eye. Why? Because some warts become cancerous — it’s a very small number, but they can have very serious consequences.

The common wart is known by several scientific names including Veruca Vulgaris, Focal Epithelial Hyperplasia, and Condoloma Acuminatum. All these often seem to be benign and non-cancerous. They may look pedunclated (which means they have a round smaller base and a round wider top layer) or they may appear to be flat. They are usually white or red.

The virus involved in warts does not always induce the formation of visible warts or lesions. When it does, the warts can be removed but they may still recur; sometimes, however, you can get rid of them. How? Duct tape is a common home remedy; and, yes, it really can work! 22% of kiddos get tiny little warts on their hands — most commonly on the back of their hands and fingers. Teenagers between the ages of 12-16 also commonly get them; but warts are seen more and more on adults and are typically the result of trauma. 30% of wart lesions clear in six months; 60% of wart lesions clear in two years; but some may take three years to clear. So, yes, grey duct-tape or a gentle nail file may effectively remove a wart; also on the remedy list is dry ice and 17% salicylic acid (not to be used in the mouth as it makes a nasty sore like an aspirin burn). But the best way to remove warts is always a gentle laser surgery or regular surgery.

What makes warts occur? They spread through simple touch contact with the wart which enables the wart virus to land on a new host location. Skin-to-skin contact is a very easy way to transfer the virus, and people who don’t realize they have the virus still can infect someone who doesn’t have it. The virus is being shed from skin infected with warts all the time, so it’s important to have very good hygiene in keeping one’s body clean. Infecting a new person or new location on the same person can usually be traced back to skin-to-skin direct contact such as simply touching the infected hand of another person, mother to newborn baby, self-inoculation from a wart on the skin (including in the mouth) of one area of the body to another, picking your nose, or sexual transmission.

So, how do warts really work? Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) is a small double-stranded DNA helix which can affect humans with more than 120 types of the virus. For the virus to replicate itself, it needs a host which produces its own environs. The host is the basal layer of dermis which has a wound or micro-wound for the virus to enter the skin. The dermis is the base layer of any area of skin which may be on the exterior of the body or in a body cavity such as in the mouth, ear canal, anus, or cervix. Once the virus has entered the skin, it moves up through the various layers of skin tissue producing up to 100 copies before a visible lesion develops. So . . . being infected does not mean there will be a visible lesion that you or your general dentist can see. According to 2009 medical research, up to 80% of the population in the US goes through a period of being infected with warts; in Sweden, the figure of 90% has recently been documented. Wow! That’s a lot of people infected with some type of warts!

When warts occur in the mouth, they are most often a round, flat lesion. 90% of mouth HPV lesions biopsied are stages 6 – 11 which means they are benign. Teenagers have a high risk for these. For a patient with an oral diagnosis of warts, the mouth and the genitals need to be treated as well as the sexual partner. If you don’t treat an active partner, wart lesions may be re-inoculated within months. “Condaloma Acuminatum” is the name for warts when they are present in the genitals. These are the most common of the sexually transmitted diseases including 30% of all STD’s. Genital warts are more common in males, and they are more common in people with sexual partners. The warts can show up in multiples which often look like cauliflower and are pink or a lighter color. Those that are more pigmented should be removed immediately.

Why does it really matter? HPV (Human Papilloma Virus) can be the culprit virus in triggering cancerous growth throughout the body. Persistent HPV infected areas in the body, particularly in the mouth, are the highest risk for developing pre-cancerous or invasive cancerous lesions which can spread to other organs of the body. When HPV becomes cancerous, it is called Squamous Cell Carcinoma. 95% of these cancers are diagnosed in people over the age of 50; the median age is 63. When a diagnosis is localized (has not yet spread to another area of the body), there is an 80% chance for a 5-year survival rate; but it is only 18% chance for a 5-year survival with late stage diagnosis of this cancer. Early diagnosis is KEY!

What are the actual statistics? High risk HPV are oncogenic (cancerous) stages 16 – 18. HPV is the cause of 99.7% cervical cancers, 80% of vaginal cancers, 50% of penile cancers, 90% of anal cancers, 60-90% of oropharyngeal and tonsillar cancers. Yes, that number of 60-90% for posterior mouth cancers are linked to the HPV family of viruses which metastasize to other parts of the body resulting in the spread of cancer cells.

My opinion about HPV vaccination: It works best when done before the risk of disease transmission; thus, it is usually recommended for ages 11-12 but also for adolescents and adults between 9-26 years of age. This can help reduce persistent spread of the infection (metastasizing) because the same oncogenic virus types are implicated in several cancers besides those in the mouth. In other words, early vaccination may help control HPV oral infection as well as the spread of the virus from the mouth to other parts of the body.

If you are worried about any lesions in your mouth that are persistent, contact your local dentist right away and get the care you need.