Oral thrush, also commonly known as oral candidiasis. It is a yeast/fungi infection of the genus candida that tends to develop on the mucous membranes of the mouth.
For the majority of individuals, oral thrush generally does not cause any serious problems. However, the story is different for people with a weakened immune system – for them, the signs and symptoms might be much more severe.
According to stats, the outcome for oral thrush is generally very good. People often respond well to treatment. However, oral thrush reappears, especially if the causal factor like smoking is not removed.
This article will cover all aspects of oral thrush, including the symptoms, causes, and treatment.
What is Oral Thrush?
A yeast germ called candida causes the infection thrush. Your mouth is a common site where candida causes infection. Candida infection, when it occurs in the mouth, is called oral thrush. Other common locations for thrush to develop are the nappy area, vagina, and nail folds.
If you notice a strange white rash-like growth inside your mouth, you may have a condition called oral thrush. The condition is also called oral candidiasis. It is an infection caused by the candida fungus, which is actually yeast.
You can get these rashes in your mouth and other parts of your body as well. This infection can cause diaper rash in infants or vaginal yeast infections in women.
Anyone can get thrush, but it happens most often to babies and toddlers, older adults, and people with weakened immune systems.
Although thrush can affect anyone, it is more likely to happen in babies and older adults, probably because they have reduced immunity. Thrush is also visible in other individuals with suppressed immune systems or certain health conditions; or individuals who take certain medications.
It is a minor problem if you are healthy. But in case you have a weakened immune system, the symptoms might be more severe and even more difficult to control.
Fast Facts on Oral Thrush
Here are some key points you need to know about oral thrush.
- Oral thrush is a commonly occurring condition, but for most, it does not cause significant problems.
- The fungus candida typically survives on mucous membranes, but if too much grows, it can cause symptoms.
- Individuals with a reduced immune system are worst affected by thrush.
- Oral thrush could be noticed more regularly after radiotherapy or chemotherapy to the head and neck.
- The condition is more pronounced in people who take steroids, wear dentures, or have diabetes.
- The most apparent symptom of thrush is white-colored or creamy deposits in your mouth.
- Oral treatments or local antifungal treatments can be helpful to treat thrush.
- By practicing good hygiene, you can help prevent it.
Oral Thrush Symptoms
Children and adults
The symptoms are so minor that initially, you might not even notice them. Signs and symptoms may include:
- White, creamy lesions are seen on your tongue, inner cheeks, and sometimes even on the roof of your mouth, tonsils, and gums. It might appear even on the back of your throat.
- Some might have slightly raised lesions with a cottage cheese-like appearance.
- Redness, inflammation, burning, or soreness that might be severe enough to cause difficulty swallowing or eating.
- You may even notice slight bleeding if the lesions are scraped or rubbed.
- Redness and cracks occur at the corners of your mouth.
- You might have a cottony feeling in your mouth.
- Loss of taste.
- Irritation, redness, and pain under dentures are called denture stomatitis.
It is usually seen in people with cancer or a weakened immune system from HIV/AIDS in severe cases. In such cases, the lesions may spread downward into the esophagus.
The esophagus is the long, muscular tube stretching from the back of your mouth to your stomach. If this condition occurs, you might experience difficulty swallowing your food. You might also experience pain or feel as if food is getting stuck in your throat.
Infants and breastfeeding mothers
In addition to the distinctive white mouth lesions, which are a common symptom, infants might have trouble feeding or be irritable and fussy. Infants can even pass the infection to their mothers while they are breastfeeding.
Women whose breasts are infected with candida might experience these symptoms:
- Unusually red, cracked, sensitive, or itchy nipples.
- Shiny or flaky skin on the darker, circular area around the nipple or areola.
- Unusual pain during nursing. Also, one might notice painful nipples, especially between feedings.
- Stabbing or throbbing pain deep within the breast.
When to see a doctor
If you or your child develops white lesions or creamy layers inside the mouth, see your doctor or dentist. Oral thrush is uncommon in healthy older children, teenagers, and adults.
So if you notice any symptoms of thrush developing, see your doctor determine if further evaluation is required. Your dentist will also check for an underlying medical condition or other causes.
What Causes Oral Thrush?
Do you know that small amounts of candida fungus are present in your mouth, digestive tract, and skin. It is supposed to be there and the fungus is usually kept under control by the other bacteria in your body.
But sometimes, certain medications or illnesses like corticosteroids or antibiotics – can disturb your balance. As a result, the fungus grows out of control. That is when you get oral thrush. Stress can cause oral thrush. Several other medical conditions also cause thrush, like:
- Uncontrolled diabetes
- HIV infection
If you smoke or wear dentures that do not fit properly – you are more likely to get thrush. Newborn babies can pass the infection to their mothers while they are breastfeeding.
What is the Treatment for Oral Thrush?
Treatment of thrush depends on the cause and severity of your infection. If your doctor identifies that some reversible condition causes your oral thrush, then those factors must be corrected as part of the treatment. These conditions could be taking antibiotics, ill-fitting dentures, smoking, or poorly controlled diabetes.
Children, toddlers, and infants often do not require treatment. In children who have thrush that persisted for more than a few weeks, your pediatrician might prescribe antifungal nystatin drops.
Locally applied treatment
For mild oral thrush symptoms, the usual treatment that your dentist will try first – is miconazole mouth gel for a week. Sometimes you might need a two-week course. Nystatin drops are another option if your dentist cannot use miconazole gel. It applies to individuals known to be allergic to it.
You should follow the instructions on the packet:
- The drops or gel should be used after you have eaten or drunk.
- Smear a little amount of gel on your affected areas using a clean finger. Apply this four times a day.
- You use a dropper to place the liquid drops inside your mouth on the affected areas.
- Ideally, you should avoid eating or drinking for about 30 minutes after using the gel or the drops. This step would help you to prevent the medicine from being washed out of your mouth.
Tablets for thrush contain a medicine called fluconazole that can help to clear fungal and thrush infections from your mouth. Your doctor will prescribe tablets only in more severe cases. For example, for individuals with a poor immune system develop extensive oral thrush. Tablets are usually prescribed for a week, and this will usually clear your oral thrush.
Adjustment of other medication
If you are taking other medicines that may have given rise to symptoms of oral thrush like steroids or antibiotics, your doctor might need to change this medication. Else if they may reduce the dose to help clear up your oral thrush.
Risk Factors for Oral Thrush
Adult oral thrush is more seen to become a problem for the following groups:
- Adults who wear dentures – especially if they are not kept clean, the dentures do not fit properly, or are not taken out before going to bed.
- Antibiotics – individuals who are on antibiotics generally have a higher risk of developing oral thrush. Antibiotics might destroy the bacteria that prevent the candida from becoming out of control.
- Steroid medication – Individuals dependent on long-term use of steroid medication might have an increased risk of oral thrush.
- Excessive mouthwash use – people who overuse antibacterial mouthwashes tend to destroy the bacteria which keep candida at bay. As a result, they have an increased risk of developing oral thrush.
- Weakened immune system – if you have weakened immune systems are more likely to develop thrush.
- Diabetes – individuals with diabetes, especially if it is poorly controlled, might develop oral thrush.
- Dry mouth – if you have less than normal quantity of saliva or xerostomia, you are more prone to oral thrush.
- Diet – malnutrition makes you prone to thrush. This could be caused by a poor diet or a disease that might affect the absorption of nutrients. In particular, if you are on diets low in iron, vitamin B12, and folic acid, you might have a higher chance of infection.
- Smoking – Researchers believe that heavy smokers are more at risk. The reasons behind this are still unclear.
Lifestyle and Home Remedies
These measures might help reduce your risk of developing oral thrush:
- Practice good oral hygiene. Brush your teeth twice a day and floss daily or as frequently as your dentist recommends. Try to replace your toothbrush often until your infection clears up. Avoid sharing toothbrushes.
- Rinse your mouth. Dissolve about a half teaspoon of salt in 1 cup of warm water. Swish the rinse, and then throw it out.
- Disinfect your dentures. Remove your dentures at night. Clean your dentures daily. Make sure dentures fit correctly and do not cause irritation. Ask your dentist for the best way to clean your dentures.
- See your dentist regularly. Especially if you are diabetic or you are wearing dentures.
- Keep a watch on what you eat. Try limiting your amount of sugar-containing food. These might encourage the growth of the fungus candida.
- Maintain good blood sugar control if you are diabetic. Even if you are diabetic, having well-controlled blood sugar can reduce the amount of sugar in your saliva. This would discourage the growth of candida.
With treatment, oral thrush usually goes away after a couple of weeks. If you are prone to it you might need to visit your specialist doctor. Sometimes the oral thrush goes away and comes back. This often happens because the underlying cause has not gone away. Whatever be the story, your doctor will be able to suggest the best treatment.