Oral thrush happens when a yeast infection develops inside your mouth. It’s also known as oral candidiasis, oropharyngeal candidiasis, or simply thrush.
Oral thrush most often occurs in infants and toddlers. It causes white or yellowish bumps to form on the inner cheeks and tongue. Those bumps usually go away with treatment.
The infection is typically mild and rarely causes serious problems. But in people with weakened immune systems, it can spread to other parts of the body and cause potentially serious complications.
Symptoms of oral thrush
In its early stages, oral thrush may not cause any symptoms. But as the infection gets worse, one or more of the following symptoms may develop:
- white or yellow patches of bumps on your inner cheeks, tongue, tonsils, gums, or lips
- slight bleeding if the bumps are scraped
- soreness or burning in your mouth
- a cotton-like sensation in your mouth
- dry, cracked skin at the corners of your mouth
- difficulty swallowing
- a bad taste in your mouth
- a loss of taste
In some cases, oral thrush can affect your esophagus, though this is uncommon. The same fungus that causes oral thrush can also cause yeast infections in other parts of your body.
Causes of oral thrush
Oral thrush and other yeast infections are caused by an overgrowth of the fungus Candida albicans (C. albicans).
It’s normal for a small amount of C. albicans to live in your mouth, without causing harm. When your immune system is working properly, beneficial bacteria in your body help keep C. albicans under control.
But if your immune system is compromised or the balance of microorganisms in your body is disrupted, the fungus can grow out of control.
You may develop an overgrowth of C. albicans that causes oral thrush if you take certain medications that reduce the number of friendly microorganisms in your body, such as antibiotics.
Cancer treatments, including chemotherapy and radiation therapy, can also damage or kill healthy cells. This makes you more susceptible to oral thrush and other infections.
Conditions that weaken your immune system, such as leukemia and HIV, also increase the risk of developing oral thrush. Oral thrush is a common opportunistic infection in people with HIV.
Diabetes can contribute to oral thrush as well. Uncontrolled diabetes weakens your immune system and causes high blood sugar levels. This creates favorable conditions for C. albicans to grow.
Is oral thrush contagious?
If you have oral thrush, it’s possible to pass the fungus that causes this condition on to someone else if you kiss them. In some cases, that person might develop oral thrush.
The fungus that causes oral thrush also causes yeast infections in other body parts. It’s possible for you to pass the fungus from one part of your body to another part of someone else’s body.
If you’re pregnant and you have a vaginal yeast infection, you can potentially pass the fungus to your baby during delivery.
If you have a breast yeast infection or nipple yeast infection, you can pass the fungus to your baby while breastfeeding. Your baby can also transmit the fungus to you if they breastfeed when they have oral thrush.
When C. albicans is passed from one person to another, it doesn’t always cause oral thrush or other types of yeast infection.
Also, because C. albicans is so common in our environment, developing a yeast infection does not mean you necessarily caught it from someone else. Learn about some of the factors that can raise your risk of developing an infection when someone passes this fungus to you.
Diagnosis of oral thrush
Dr. Barbara Bell and Dr. Katie Bell may be able to diagnose oral thrush simply by examining your mouth for the characteristic bumps that it causes.
In some cases, we may take a biopsy of the affected area to confirm the diagnosis. To perform a biopsy, they will scrape off a small portion of a bump from your mouth. The sample will then be sent to a laboratory to be tested for C. albicans.
If we suspect you have oral thrush in your esophagus, we may refer you to an ENT doctor who may use a throat swab culture or endoscopy to confirm the diagnosis.
Treatment for oral thrush
To treat oral thrush, we may prescribe one or more of the following medications:
- fluconazole (Diflucan), an oral antifungal medication
- clotrimazole (Mycelex Troche), an antifungal medication that’s available as a lozenge
- nystatin (Nystop, Nyata), an antifungal mouthwash that you can swish in your mouth or swab in your baby’s mouth
- itraconazole (Sporanox), an oral antifungal medication that’s used to treat people who don’t respond to other treatments for oral thrush and people with HIV
- amphotericin B (AmBisome, Fungizone), a medication that’s used to treat severe cases of oral thrush
Once you begin treatment, oral thrush usually goes away within a couple of weeks. But in some cases, it can return.
For adults who have recurring cases of oral thrush with no known cause, their healthcare provider will evaluate them for underlying medical conditions that might be contributing to thrush.
Infants may have several episodes of oral thrush in their first year of life.
Home remedies for oral thrush
Dr. Barbara Bell and Dr. Katie Bell might also recommend home remedies or lifestyle changes to help treat oral thrush or stop it from coming back.
When you’re recovering, it’s important to practice good oral hygiene. Here are a few tips:
- Brush your teeth with a soft toothbrush to avoid scraping the bumps caused by thrush.
- Replace your toothbrush after you finish your treatment for oral thrush, and properly clean your dentures if you wear them, to lower your risk of reinfection.
- Avoid mouthwashes or mouth sprays unless your doctor has prescribed them.
Some home remedies may also help relieve symptoms of thrush in adults.
For example, it might help to rinse your mouth with one of the following:
- a solution of water and baking soda
- a mixture of water and lemon juice
- a mixture of water and apple cider vinegar
It might also help to eat yogurt that contains beneficial bacteria or take a probiotic supplement.
Contact Barbara Bell DDS, PA at 301-620-8869 to schedule an appointment if you suspect you have thrush