Written by Andrea Pinto on August 4th, 2021
Gonorrhea is a common sexually transmitted infection, but did you know that in addition to genital or anal gonorrhea, you can also get gonorrhea in the mouth? This form of gonorrhea isn’t as well-known, but it can still cause different health complications.
Read on to discover if you can get gonorrhea in the mouth, its symptoms, and how it can be treated.
How common is gonorrhea in the mouth?
Gonorrhea is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by the bacteria Neisseria gonorrhoea. Gonorrhea typically affects the genitourinary system and rectum of both men and women, but it can also cause mouth and throat infections. This is known as oral or pharyngeal gonorrhea.
You can get oral gonorrhea after giving oral sex to a male or female partner who is infected with the bacteria. Additionally, receiving oral sex from a partner with oral gonorrhea can result in an infection of the penis, vagina, urinary tract, or rectum. However, according to Planned Parenthood, you can’t get gonorrhea through kissing or other forms of casual contact.
It is difficult to estimate the true prevalence of gonorrhea in the mouth and other oral STIs. The American Sexual Organization estimates that 90% of all people infected with oral gonorrhea never have any symptoms.
Symptoms of gonorrhea in the mouth
The truth is that oral gonorrhea rarely causes any symptoms. This is one of the reasons why pharyngeal gonorrhea infections are so easily missed, since most people never realize that they have an infection at all.
According to a study published by the journal Infectious Diseases in Obstetrics and Gynecology, the most common symptoms of pharyngeal gonorrhea include:
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Inflammation of the oral cavity
Just like genital gonorrhea, untreated oral or throat gonorrhea can spread to other parts of the body. This spread can lead to a wide range of symptoms and complications, which can include:
- Skin rash
- Joint pain
- Joint swelling
Can oral gonorrhea be treated?
According to the University of Minnesota Center for Infectious Disease and Policy, oral gonorrhea can be more difficult to treat than other types of gonorrheal infections. It has been theorized that this happens because it’s harder for antibiotics to reach a high concentration in the throat.
Additionally, since oral gonorrhea can be asymptomatic and go undetected for a long time, the bacteria may have more time to share antibiotic resistant genes with other pathogens. Oral gonorrhea can also be exposed to antibiotics that are taken to treat other infections, which may help this bacteria become ever more resistant.
The presence of gonorrhea in any part of the body can increase the risk of getting HIV if you’re exposed to the virus.
If you ever suspect that you have gonorrhea in your mouth or throat, you should seek medical assistance from a healthcare professional. In most cases, your doctor will perform a diagnostic test — such as a culture — and prescribe an adequate course of antibiotics to treat the infection. In some cases, IV antibiotics may be needed to fully eliminate the infection.
You should always complete the entire course of antibiotics as prescribed by your healthcare provider, even if you don’t have any symptoms or your symptoms improve before finishing the treatment. Unfinished antibiotic courses can result in recurrent infections and antibiotic-resistant microbes.
Does mouthwash work against oral gonorrhea?
A popular myth is that you can treat oral and throat gonorrhea simply by gargling with mouthwash.
It may sound unlikely, but in reality, a study published by the journal Sexually Transmitted Infections found that using mouthwash for 1 minute led to a significant decrease in the amount of N. gonorrhoeae that could be found in the throat of the study’s participants.
However, there is still insufficient evidence to recommend using mouthwash as a treatment for oral gonorrhea.
How to prevent gonorrhea in the mouth
Anyone who has unprotected oral sex is at risk of getting oral gonrrhea or another oral STD, and thanks to the CDC, we know that more than 85% of adults aged 18-44 have reported engaging in oral sex at least once. You can spread gonorrhea to your partners even if you never experience any symptoms.
Certain strategies can help you keep yourself and your partner safe during oral sex, including:
- Use a dental dam or male condom when engaging in oral sex.
- If you don’t have a dental dam at hand, you can improvise one by cutting the tip of a male condom, and then cutting the rest of the condom open to create a square or rectangle shape.
- Get tested for STIs before and after having sex with a new sexual partner.
- Have open conversations with your partner about any past STIs.
You can learn more about gonorrhea and other oral STIs through these STDWatch articles:
- STD on lips, pictures, causes, treatment
- Gonorrhea - Everything you need to know
- Can you get chlamydia in mouth?
- Can you get an STD from kissing?
- Gonorrhea - plannedparenthood.org
- Gonorrhea: Fast Facts - ashasexualhealth.org
- Extragenital Infections Caused by Chlamydia trachomatis and Neisseria gonorrhoeae: A Review of the Literature - ncbi.nlm.nih.gov
- Experts brace for more super-resistant gonorrhea - cidrap.umn.edu
- Antiseptic mouthwash against pharyngeal Neisseria gonorrhoeae: a randomised controlled trial and an in vitro study - sti.bmj.com
- STD Risk and Oral Sex - CDC Fact Sheet