Oral thrush is a superficial yeast fungal infection that develops on the mucous membranes within the mouth and throat.
Also known as oral candidiasis, oral thrush can occur in adults and in children, with infants and denture-wearers being the most prone to infection.
White, off-white, or cream-colored spots, typically on the inner cheeks or tongue, are indications of oral thrush. (The spots may even form a coating, which can change to a gray or yellow color.)
Oral thrush is not, however, limited to the cheeks and tongue. It also can spread to the gums, tonsils, inner lips, roof of the mouth, or esophagus.
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These infected areas can be painful, red, and inflamed, and may even bleed. And in addition to pain and discomfort, oral thrush can also cause dry mouth, loss of taste, and bad breath.
Oral thrush is usually only a minor problem in healthy individuals, since the amount of “bad” bacteria is balanced by a healthy immune system and some “good” bacteria. However, those with a weakened immune system may experience more severe symptoms that are more difficult to control.
The infection also is commonly passed back and forth between breastfeeding moms and their babies.
Risk factors for developing oral thrush include diabetes, smoking, pregnancy, excessive mouthwash use, wearing dentures, prolonged use of oral antibiotics or steroids, and use of birth control pills.
Other common causes include chemotherapy or radiotherapy to the head and neck, as well as the improper use of inhalers containing corticosteroids for the control of asthma or COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease).
If you wear dentures, be sure to clean them daily.
For breastfeeding mothers, the best way to reduce your baby’s chances of oral thrush is to rinse bottle nipples, pacifiers, and breast pumps with a water and vinegar solution every day. To prevent fungus growth, allow these items to air dry.
Diagnosis generally does not require any more than a visual inspection. However, some doctors may choose to scrape some tissue from the mouth for analysis under a microscope.
Consult a doctor or dentist if you or your infant develop a fever along with white lesions inside the mouth, or if pain/difficulty swallowing is experienced.
Any person with a compromised immune system must seek medical attention as soon as possible, since oral thrush can spread to other parts of the body, including the digestive tract, lungs, and liver.
Treatments include anti-thrush drugs, such as nystatin, amphotericin, or miconazole. These medications often come as drops, gels, or lozenges.
At-home remedies include rinsing with salt water, swabbing the oral area with pure virgin coconut oil, taking acidophilus capsules, and eating unsweetened yogurt. While these methods won’t eliminate the fungus, they will help to restore the body’s normal bacteria.
Application of white distilled vinegar and/or a dilute baking soda to the breastfeeding mom’s nipples is also considered effective.
° Good oral hygiene practices are one of the best ways to prevent oral thrush.
° Avoid excessive use of mouthwashes.
° Quit smoking.
° Limit sugar intake and yeast-containing foods, such as bread and beer.