Oral candidiasis, more commonly known as thrush, is caused by an accumulation of fungus on the mucus membranes of the mouth. While most cases are caused by the Candida albicans fungus, other strains like Candida glabrata or Candida tropicalis may also be to blame. It’s actually normal for Candida to be present in the mouth, but for individuals with weakened immune systems, the fungus can flourish unchecked, resulting in the onset of thrush.
Thrush is most often seen in babies and the elderly, although it may also strike children and adults who have compromised immune function, perhaps related to illness or medications. Oral thrush is not uncommon in patients undergoing chemotherapy or radiation treatments, those with diabetes, and patients taking steroids or antibiotics.
The most notable symptom is the appearance of creamy, white lesions on the soft tissues in the mouth, including on the tongue, tonsils, inside of the cheeks, and roof of the mouth. An outbreak of thrush is sometimes compared to cottage cheese in appearance. Other symptoms could include redness, irritation, discomfort, burning, and difficulty eating or swallowing. In some cases, thrush extends to the esophagus.
While thrush isn’t considered terribly serious for healthy individuals, symptoms can be severe for those with weak or compromised immunity. In most cases, however, thrush is relatively easy to cure, and patients can take steps to prevent future occurrence. Here’s what you need to know to treat and avoid thrush.
If you suspect you have thrush, you’ll want to visit your doctor or dentist for examination and diagnosis, which could include not only visual inspection, but also taking a small sample (scraping) to examine with a microscope, and possibly a blood test to determine contributing factors to the onset of thrush. Once you’ve been diagnosed, there are several potential treatment options.
The most common treatment for oral thrush is antifungal medication, and it may come in a variety of forms. To treat symptoms of thrush and reduce fungus in the mouth, antifungal oral rinses that you swish in your mouth are common, as are lozenges and tablets. If topical applications don’t help, you may receive oral medications to be ingested as a way to treat fungus on a whole-body scale.
Because thrush is more common in infants, it may be transferred to the mother during breastfeeding, resulting in symptoms like sensitivity, pain, redness, itching, flaking, dryness, and cracking around the nipples. When this happens, the breastfeeding mother and baby may pass thrush back and forth between them. In such cases, the baby may be given a mild antifungal medication while the mother receives a topical cream to treat breasts.
There are also a number of home remedies that may help to alleviate symptoms of thrush, but they are not a substitute for proper medical treatment. When used in concert with antifungal medications, rinsing the mouth with saltwater, using a soft tooth brush, and using a new toothbrush daily may help to minimize symptoms, reduce the spread of fungus, and speed healing.
Anyone who has suffered through thrush knows how miserable it can be. As a result, you probably want to do what you can to prevent recurrence. There are several known risk factors for developing thrush, including:
– Young or old age
– Breastfeeding (if infant has thrush)
– Weakened/compromised immune system due to illness or medication
– Long-term steroid use
– Use of antibiotics (as these can destroy good bacteria that keeps Candida in check)
– Excessive use of mouthwash that disrupts good bacteria in the mouth
– Dry mouth
– Use of tobacco products
– Poor diet/malnutrition
If you have any of these risk factors, you can take steps to prevent the onset of thrush. Frequent brushing, flossing, and rinsing is the best way to avoid oral thrush, especially if you wear dentures or your take an inhaled steroid medication. You’ll also want to see your dentist regularly for examination and cleaning to ensure optimal oral health. Avoiding tobacco use is also ideal, for a variety of health reasons.
It’s best to maintain a healthy and balanced diet that includes adequate vitamins and minerals, especially vitamin B-12, folic acid, and iron. In addition, you’ll want to treat other types of bacterial or yeast infections immediately to avoid imbalances that could prompt the onset of thrush. With care and awareness, you have the best chance to prevent thrush and recognize early warning signs so you can seek immediate diagnosis and treatment.