Many parents know something about thrush because it’s a common condition in infants and young children. However, it’s not just a childhood condition, and can indicate an underlying issue in adults. Read on to learn everything you need to know about oral thrush, how to treat it, and even tips for preventing it.
What is Oral Thrush?
Oral thrush is a type of yeast infection that occurs in your mouth due to the accumulation of a specific fungus, Candida albicans. It’s commonly known as thrush, but you may also hear the terms oropharyngeal candidiasis or oral candidiasis.
What Causes Oral Thrush?
Thrush usually isn’t an issue in a healthy human body with a strong immune system, because the immune system fights off invasive bacteria and fungi. However, when your immune system can’t eradicate the bad elements, the fungus multiplies and develops into an infection.
What are the Symptoms of Oral Thrush?
You may not recognize oral thrush in the early stages. It takes some time, but eventually, oral thrush presents with a range of notable symptoms.
- Whitish spots appear on your tongue and the insides of your mouth, including gums and inner cheeks.
- Raised bumps that look a little bit like cottage cheese emerge inside your mouth.
- Discomfort, usually soreness or a burning sensation, can make it difficult to eat and speak.
- Minor bleeding may occur if you rub or scrape the spots and bumps.
- Redness with cracking may happen at the corners of your mouth.
- You may notice a loss of taste.
- Some people experience a cottony feeling.
- If you wear dentures, you may develop redness, irritation, and pain.
For new mothers who breast-feed, it’s important to know the signs in your infants. Your child may develop white spots and have difficulty latching on to feed. It is also possible for an infant with oral thrush to pass it to their mother.
What are Complications of Oral Thrush?
Normally, thrush resolves with proper treatment. However, in some cases, if your immune system is too weak, complications can occur. The fungus can spread throughout your body via your bloodstream and affect organs.
When oral thrush spreads to other organs, it develops into invasive or systemic candidiasis, which can lead to septic shock. The condition is rather rare, affecting around 25,000 people in the United States each year.
Who’s at Risk for Oral Thrush?
Oral thrush is common, but it’s difficult to assess actual statistics because this condition is not tracked nationally. However, there are some factors that could put you at risk for developing oral thrush.
- Weak immune systems remain the primary risk factor, which explains why thrush is most common in infants and older adults. However, some situations could put you at risk, like an organ transplant or cancer.
- Untreated or poorly controlled diabetes leads to more sugar in your saliva, which creates the perfect environment for candida.
- Vaginal yeast infections can spread through your body and cause oral thrush.
- Some medications, like corticosteroids and antibiotics, can disrupt your body chemistry enough to open the door for oral thrush.
- Other oral conditions can increase your risk, like wearing dentures.
- Smokers are at greater risk for developing oral thrush.
Is Oral Thrush Contagious?
Since oral thrush is caused by a fungus, you can pass it on to somebody else. It’s possible to transmit oral thrush through a kiss. Additionally, babies can pass thrush to their mothers during breastfeeding.
How to Diagnose Oral Thrush
Only a medical professional can officially diagnose oral thrush, so it’s important to see a doctor if you suspect you have it. They may need to perform a biopsy to confirm the diagnosis.
Oral Thrush Treatment
If your treating physician confirms that you have oral thrush, they will typically prescribe a medication. However, there are also some home remedies to help treat some of the symptoms and prevent a recurrence.
There are five main types of medication typically used to treat oral thrush. They come in different forms to make it easier to find a solution for people of all ages.
- Fluconazole is an oral antifungal.
- Clotrimazole is another antifungal that comes in lozenge form.
- Nystatin is a mouthwash that’s often prescribed for infants because it can be swabbed in their mouths.
- Itraconazole is another oral antifungal that’s prescribed when the thrush doesn’t respond to other forms.
- When the oral thrush remains resistant to every other treatment, doctors prescribe Amphotericin B.
Treatment usually resolves oral thrush within a few weeks. If thrush returns, it’s often a sign of an underlying condition or situation that needs to be treated to resolve the issue.
Oral Thrush Home Remedies
There are some steps you can take at home to help treat and possibly prevent recurrence of oral thrush. Good oral care routines help maintain the natural balance in your mouth, so brushing and flossing daily is the most important thing you can do.
If you have thrush, there are some home remedy mouth rinses that can alleviate symptoms.
- Rinse with saltwater.
- Create a solution of water and baking soda and rinse well after using it.
- Dilute lemon juice with water and wash it around your mouth.
- Try a mixture of water and apple cider vinegar.
- Eat unsweetened yogurt to help balance bacteria levels in your mouth.
Oral Thrush in Babies
Oral thrush is common in infants because they have not developed strong immune systems yet. They can also get the infection from their mothers during childbirth.
For infants, oral thrush can present as white or yellow spots on the inner cheeks, tongue, gums, lips, and even tonsils. They may experience slight bleeding with bumps and scrapes and cracked skin at the corners of their mouths. Often, babies with thrush are fussy and refuse to eat (because it irritates the thrush).
Oral Thrush and Breastfeeding
New mothers need to pay extra attention to their babies for signs of oral thrush. Infants can pass oral thrush to their mothers’ breasts or nipples during feeding which can be painful. Other symptoms of a yeast infection in the breast or nipple include:
- Pain in the breast, worst during and immediately following a feeding
- Itching or burning around the nipples
- Whitish or shiny spots on and around the nipples
- Flaking skin on and around the nipples
If you notice any of these symptoms, it’s important to contact a treating physician immediately. You and your child need to be treated and everything that goes in your child’s mouth needs to be sterilized.
Oral Thrush in Adults
Thrush is common in babies, but it can occur in adults, especially during later years. However, any adult with impaired immune systems or certain medical conditions can develop oral thrush. Normally, in healthy adults with strong immune systems oral thrush resolves with treatment and there are no further complications.
Prevention of Oral Thrush
Preventing oral thrush is possible with proper oral care. Taking some additional steps can fortify your immune system as well.
- Eat a healthy, balanced diet, follow a good sleep schedule, and exercise to keep your immune system functional.
- If you wear dentures, be diligent about cleaning them daily, making sure they fit properly, and removing them before bed.
- Chronic dry mouth can indicate a favorable environment for thrush, so if it’s an issue for you, it’s a good idea to reach out to your doctor for help.
- People who use corticosteroid inhalers can be at greater risk for thrush, so it’s important to brush teeth after using it.
- It’s important for diabetics to manage blood sugar levels to prevent excess sugar in your saliva.
Ultimately, the best thing you can do to prevent oral health is to maintain a good oral care routine. Brushing at least twice per day, flossing once per day, and keeping regular appointments with your dentist could help you avoid oral thrush.