Syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) caused by a bacteria called Treponema pallidum. We usually think that STDs can only be transmitted during penetrative sex or genital contact, but this isn’t always the case.
Keep reading to find out whether you can get syphilis from kissing and other facts about oral syphilis.
Can you get syphilis from kissing?
Sexual contact is widely considered to be the most common method of transmission for syphilis. According toAccording to the organization Avert, these methods of transmission include:
- Unprotected vaginal, anal, and oral sex
- Sharing sex toys without the adequate protective measures
- Vertical transmission from mother to child during pregnancy or childbirth
But although rare, it’s possible to get syphilis from kissing. According to the Medicine (Baltimore) journal, Treponema pallidum can invade mucous membranes, including the oral mucosa. If you kiss someone who has a syphilitic chancre inside their mouth, the bacteria could get into your system through tiny abrasions in your mucosa. These lesions are often very small, which means that you often won’t see them or even notice them.
You can also get oral syphilis if you give unprotected oral sex to someone who has genital syphilis. If this happens and you develop an oral chancre, you could risk transmitting the disease when kissing another person. You can also get oral syphilis through oral-to-anal contact.
Symptoms of oral syphilis
The first symptom of syphilis is usually a hard, painless chancre that will appear in the area where the bacteria entered your body. This chancre will heal on its own within a few weeks, but that doesn’t mean that your body has cleared the infection or that you can’t transmit syphilis to another person anymore.
When syphilis affects the mouth, this chancre can affect different parts of the oral cavity. According to a case report published by the Journal of Medical Case Reports, the symptoms of oral syphilis can include:
- A hard chancre or ulcer that appears on the:
- Gingiva (gums)
- Soft palate
- Hard palate
- Swollen lymph nodes on your neck
Once the primary stage of syphilis passes and the infection becomes systemic, oral syphilis can progress to more advanced stages. According to the Mayo Clinic, the remaining stages of syphilis include:
- Secondary syphilis: this stage begins a few weeks after the chancre appears, and it can start before the chancre heals on its own. A reddish brown rash can appear and spread until it covers almost the entire body, including the palms of the hands and the soles of the feet. Other symptoms during this stage can include fever, muscle aches, hair loss, and a sore throat. The rash isn’t itchy and it will heal on its own without leaving scars — although hyperpigmentation can occur.
- Latent syphilis: this stage is asymptomatic, and it can last months or even years. But during this stage, the bacteria will still be present in your system unless you receive treatment, and you’ll also be able to pass it on to other people.
- Tertiary syphilis: this is the most severe stage of the disease, and it can cause a range of symptoms that include dementia, neurological problems, vision problems, heart disease, joint disease, and nerve damage. These manifestations can occur many years after the original infection, and the damage isn’t always reversed after treatment.
When to see a doctor for oral syphilis
There are many different STDs and other diseases that can cause oral symptoms, and it can be difficult to identify the cause of the problem by yourself. According to the CDC, other STDs that can be transmitted through different types of oral contact include:
Since these STDs require different treatments, it’s very important to get an accurate diagnosis so you can get the treatment you need. Fortunately, syphilis testing is very effective and can detect practically all syphilis infections, as long as the incubation period for the bacteria has already ended. According to Penn Medicine, the incubation period for syphilis can range between 14 and 21 days.
Thanks to modern STD diagnosis methods, you can easily access at-home STD testing for syphilis and many other STDs. After ordering an STD testing kit online, you’ll simply have to wait until it arrives at your doorstep, containing everything you need to take a good sample. It’s important to follow all the instructions contained in the package, since the quality of your sample will ensure the accuracy of your results. Once you have taken the sample, you’ll need to mail it back to the provider so it can be processed.
If your test comes back positive for syphilis or a different STD, the testing provider will also provide medical guidance throughout your treatment. In some cases, it may be necessary for you to visit a doctor in-person for further testing, treatment, or follow-up. You can learn more about STD testing at STDWatch.com.
- SYPHILIS SYMPTOMS AND TREATMENT - avert.org
- Syphilitic Chancre of the Lips Transmitted by Kissing - ncbi.nlm.nih.gov
- The oral manifestations of syphilitic disease: a case report - jmedicalcasereports.biomedcentral.com
- Syphilis - mayoclinic.org
- STD Risk and Oral Sex - CDC Fact Sheet - cdc.gov
- Syphilis - www.pennmedicine.org