Syphilis: the renaissance of an old disease with oral implications

Head Neck Pathol. 2009 Sep;3(3):195-206. doi: 10.1007/s12105-009-0127-0. Epub 2009 Jul 22.


Syphilis is caused by Treponema pallidum an anaerobic filamentous spirochete. In recent years, striking outbreaks have occurred in USA, Canada, Russia, China and some areas of Central and Eastern Europe. Main epidemiology changes reflect sex industry, sexual promiscuity, decreasing use of barrier protection (i.e. condoms) due to false sense of security that nowadays sexually transmitted diseases are curable and lack of pertinent knowledge. Considering that the initial presentation of syphilis may be the oral cavity, it is of great relevance to include this disease in the differential diagnosis of unusual oral ulcerations and white patches. Primary syphilis is a highly infectious disease in which inappropriate treatment may be apparently curative while the patient remains highly infectious. It is then of pivotal importance that clinicians maintain a high clinical index of suspicion. At the present time, clinical-pathologic correlation together with serologic studies remain essential in establishing the diagnosis of syphilis.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Humans
  • Mouth Diseases / epidemiology
  • Mouth Diseases / microbiology*
  • Mouth Diseases / pathology*
  • Syphilis / complications*
  • Syphilis / epidemiology
  • Syphilis / pathology*
  • Treponema pallidum