HPV Bumps on the Back of the Tongue: What You Need to Know

Jun 17, 2024 | 8 min read

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HPV bumps on the back of the tongue are small, flesh-colored or white lesions caused by the human papillomavirus. These painless bumps can be transmitted through oral sex, kissing, and other forms of contact. Early diagnosis and treatment are essential for effective management.

hpv bumps on back of tongue

What Are HPV Bumps on the Back of the Tongue?

HPV bumps on the back of the tongue, also known as oral warts, can be alarming when first noticed. These bumps are typically small, flesh-colored, and may resemble common warts found on other parts of the body. They can vary in appearance, sometimes presenting as slightly raised or flat lesions. The color of these bumps can range from white to pink or even red, depending on their severity and the individual's oral health.

Common locations for these bumps include:

  • Back of the Tongue: This is the most frequent area where HPV bumps appear.
  • Soft Palate: The soft part at the back of the roof of the mouth.
  • Lips: Although less common, bumps can also appear here.
  • Inside Cheeks: Sometimes these warts can spread to the inner cheek area.

These bumps are usually painless but can be uncomfortable, especially if they interfere with eating or speaking. They often have a rough texture, and while some might be smooth, others may have a cauliflower-like appearance, which is a hallmark of certain types of HPV-induced warts.

Differences Between HPV Bumps and Other Oral Conditions

Distinguishing HPV bumps from other oral conditions is crucial for proper diagnosis and treatment. Here are some key differences:

  • Cold Sores: Unlike HPV bumps, cold sores are painful, fluid-filled blisters caused by the herpes simplex virus. They often appear on the lips and around the mouth rather than inside the oral cavity.
  • Canker Sores: These are small, painful ulcers that occur inside the mouth. They are not caused by HPV and typically have a red border with a white or yellow center.
  • Oral Thrush: This fungal infection results in creamy white lesions on the tongue and inner cheeks. It can be wiped away, leaving a red, bleeding surface underneath, unlike HPV bumps which are more firmly attached.
  • Leukoplakia: These are thick, white patches in the mouth that cannot be wiped away. They are usually caused by irritation from tobacco use but are not related to HPV.

For accurate diagnosis, it is essential to consult a healthcare professional. They may use visual examination and possibly a biopsy to confirm the presence of HPV.

Causes and Transmission of Oral HPV

How HPV Spreads

HPV is a highly contagious virus that spreads through direct contact with infected skin or mucous membranes. Here are some common ways it can spread to the mouth:

  • Oral Sex: Engaging in oral sex with an infected partner is a primary route for oral HPV transmission. The virus can be present in the genital area and spread to the mouth.
  • Kissing: Open-mouth kissing can also transmit the virus, especially if one partner has an active infection in the oral cavity.
  • Contact with Warts: Touching a wart on another part of the body or another person's body and then touching the mouth can lead to the spread of HPV.
  • Contaminated Utensils: In rare cases, sharing utensils, razors, or other personal items that have been in contact with an infected person's saliva can transmit the virus.

Risk Factors

Certain factors increase the likelihood of developing oral HPV. These include:

  • Multiple Sexual Partners: Having multiple sexual partners increases the risk of contracting HPV due to higher exposure chances.
  • Weakened Immune System: Individuals with weakened immune systems, whether due to illness, medications, or other conditions, are more susceptible to HPV infections.
  • Smoking: Tobacco use can cause damage to the mouth's mucous membranes, making it easier for HPV to take hold.
  • Alcohol Consumption: Excessive alcohol use can weaken the immune system and increase the risk of oral infections.
  • Young Age at First Sexual Activity: Engaging in sexual activity at a younger age can increase the risk of HPV due to potential lack of awareness and protective measures.

To reduce the risk of transmission, practicing safe sex by using condoms or dental dams, avoiding deep kissing with partners who have oral lesions, and maintaining good oral hygiene are recommended.

Symptoms of HPV Bumps on the Tongue

HPV bumps on the tongue can vary in appearance but generally share some common characteristics. These bumps often appear as small, flesh-colored or white lesions that can be slightly raised or flat. They might have a rough, bumpy texture, similar to cauliflower, which is typical of certain HPV-induced warts. Some key symptoms to look out for include:

  • Color: Bumps can be white, pink, or flesh-colored.
  • Texture: They often have a rough, bumpy surface.
  • Pain: Usually, these bumps are painless, though they can be uncomfortable if irritated by eating or talking.
  • Size: The bumps can vary in size but are generally small and slow-growing.

If you notice these types of bumps on your tongue, it’s important to monitor them. While most HPV bumps are harmless, their presence can be a sign of an underlying infection that may require medical attention.

Using a Symptom Checker can help you gain a better understanding of your symptoms and condition. However, no online tool can substitute for a real doctor’s expertise and diagnosis.

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When to Seek Medical Advice

Although HPV bumps on the tongue are usually benign, it is important to seek medical advice in certain situations:

  • Persistent Bumps: If the bumps do not go away within a few weeks or months, consult a healthcare professional.
  • Painful Lesions: If the bumps cause pain or discomfort, especially when eating or speaking.
  • Changes in Appearance: If there are changes in color, size, or texture of the bumps.
  • Difficulty Swallowing or Breathing: Any bumps causing difficulty in swallowing or breathing should be evaluated immediately.

A healthcare professional can provide a proper diagnosis and recommend appropriate treatment if necessary.

Types of Oral HPV and Tongue Warts

Squamous Papilloma

Squamous papillomas are benign tumors caused by HPV strains 6 and 11. These growths often resemble small cauliflower-like bumps and can appear anywhere in the oral cavity, including the back of the tongue.

They are usually white and painless, and while they might be bothersome, they are generally not harmful. Medical intervention is typically not required unless they cause significant discomfort or issues with oral function.

Verruca Vulgaris

Verruca vulgaris, or common warts, are caused by HPV strains 2 and 4. These warts are more commonly found on the hands but can spread to the mouth and tongue. They appear as small, raised bumps with a rough surface and are usually flesh-colored.

While they are typically painless, they can become irritated by constant contact with teeth or food.

Focal Epithelial Hyperplasia

Focal epithelial hyperplasia, also known as Heck’s disease, is linked to HPV strains 13 and 32. This condition causes multiple small, smooth, pink or white bumps to form on the tongue and other parts of the oral cavity. These bumps often have a cobblestone appearance and are most common in children and adolescents.

Though they are generally harmless, they can be unsightly and sometimes require medical treatment if they interfere with oral function.

Condyloma Acuminata

Condyloma acuminata are warts caused by HPV strains 2, 6, and 11. These lesions typically develop in the genital area but can spread to the tongue through oral sexual contact. They appear as soft, pink, cauliflower-like growths and can vary in size.

These warts are usually painless but can be a source of discomfort and embarrassment, prompting individuals to seek treatment to have them removed.

Diagnosis and Medical Evaluation

Diagnosing HPV bumps on the tongue involves a few different methods. Initially, a healthcare professional will perform a visual examination to identify the characteristic appearance of these warts. This step often includes:

  • Visual Examination: Doctors look for the typical features of HPV bumps, such as their color, texture, and location on the tongue.
  • Biopsy: In some cases, a small tissue sample from the bump may be taken and analyzed in a lab to confirm the diagnosis.
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) Tests: This advanced method detects HPV DNA in the tissue sample, providing a definitive diagnosis. PCR tests are highly accurate and can identify the specific strain of HPV causing the bumps.

Early detection of HPV bumps on the tongue is crucial as it prevents the virus from spreading, avoids complications, reduces the risk of cancer, and allows for more effective treatment.

Treatment Options for HPV Bumps on the Tongue

Home Remedies and Self-Care

  • Maintain Oral Hygiene: Regular brushing and flossing can help prevent infection and irritation of the bumps.
  • Avoid Irritants: Stay away from spicy, acidic, or hot foods that may irritate the bumps.
  • Saltwater Rinse: Rinsing the mouth with saltwater can help reduce inflammation and keep the area clean.
  • Dietary Changes: Eating soft foods and chewing on the opposite side of the mouth can minimize discomfort.

Medical Treatments

  • Cryotherapy: This involves using liquid nitrogen to freeze and destroy the abnormal tissue. It's a quick procedure and generally well-tolerated.
  • Electrosurgery: High-frequency electric currents are used to cut through and remove the warts. This method can effectively eliminate larger or more stubborn bumps.
  • Surgical Removal: In some cases, warts may be surgically excised, especially if they are large or causing significant problems. This procedure is usually done under local anesthesia.
  • Trichloroacetic Acid: This chemical treatment can be applied directly to the warts, causing them to dissolve over time.
  • Creams: A topical cream that boosts the body's immune response to HPV, helping to clear the warts. This is often used for external warts but can be effective in the mouth as well.

Importance of HPV Vaccination

Getting vaccinated against HPV is one of the most effective ways to prevent the virus. The HPV vaccine protects against several strains of the virus that cause warts and cancers.

Recommendations from CDC:


  • Children aged 11 to 12 should receive two doses of the HPV vaccine, administered 6 to 12 months apart. HPV vaccines can be given starting at age 9.
  • Children who begin the HPV vaccine series on or after their 15th birthday require three doses, administered over a period of 6 months.
  • If your teen isn’t vaccinated yet, talk to their doctor about doing so as soon as possible.

Teens and adults:

  • Everyone up to the age of 26 should receive the HPV vaccine if they have not already been fully vaccinated.
  • HPV vaccination is not recommended for everyone older than age 26 years.
  • Some adults ages 27 through 45 years who were not already vaccinated might choose to get HPV vaccine after speaking with their doctor about their risk for new HPV infections and possible benefits of vaccination for them.
  • HPV vaccination of adults provides less benefit, because more people in this age range have been exposed to HPV already.

Frequently Asked Questions

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Key Takeaways

  • HPV bumps on the back of the tongue are typically small, flesh-colored or white lesions that can be slightly raised or flat. They often have a rough, bumpy texture and are usually painless.
  • HPV is highly contagious and spreads through direct contact with infected skin or mucous membranes. Common transmission methods include oral sex, kissing, contact with warts, and using contaminated utensils.
  • Factors that increase the likelihood of developing oral HPV include having multiple sexual partners, a weakened immune system, smoking, and excessive alcohol consumption.
  • Symptoms of HPV bumps on the tongue include small, flesh-colored or white bumps, rough texture, and painless lesions. If the bumps persist, change in appearance, or cause difficulty swallowing or breathing, seek medical advice.
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