Oral thrush, also called oral candidiasis, refers to a condition caused by the fungus, Candida albicans, which accumulates on the lining of the mouth. Although the presence of Candida in the mouth is normal, the fungus may overgrow at times and cause troubling symptoms. Oral thrush can be quite painful and if severe you may need to see an emergency dentist for urgent treatment.
Thrush is common in babies, the elderly, people with weakened immune systems and those who take certain medications, or have certain health conditions. If you are healthy, thrush is a minor issue. However, if your immune system is suppressed, symptoms may be severe and difficult to manage. Note that oral thrush is not contagious.
Signs and Symptoms of Oral Thrush
Symptoms of thrush include:
- White patches in the mouth. These patches can usually be wiped off but they leave red areas that may slightly bleed
- Cracks at the corners of your mouth
- Redness inside your mouth and throat
- Foul taste in the mouth
- Loss of taste
- A painful, burning sensation in the mouth
- Difficult eating and drinking
Moreover, infants may show signs of oral thrush by having trouble feeding or being fussy. The infection can be passed on from infant to mother during breastfeeding, after which, the infection travels back and forth between both of them. In such a case, the mother may have the following:
- Unusually red, cracked, itchy or sensitive nipples
- Unusual pain while nursing or between feedings
- Shiny skin on the areola – the darker, circular area around the nipple
- Stabbing pains deep in the breast
Causes of Oral Thrush
Candida is naturally found in low numbers in the mouth and digestive tract of most individuals. They cause problems such as oral thrush when they start multiplying. A number of factors can contribute to this, some of them include:
- Prolonged use or high dosage of antibiotics
- Wearing dentures, particularly if they’re ill-fitting
- Taking inhaled corticosteroids for asthma
- Poor dental hygiene
- Dry mouth – the condition itself or the medication you’re taking for dry mouth
- Cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy
- Vitamin B12 or iron deficiency
- Underlying medical conditions such as diabetes, hypothyroidism and HIV
Oral Thrush Complications
Oral thrush is rarely a problem in healthy children and adults but there is a risk of the infection recurring even after treatment. Thrush can be more serious for people with compromised immune systems, such as from cancer or HIV. If left untreated, it can lead to severe systemic infections that may spread to other parts of your body, such as the digestive system, the liver, lungs and heart valves. The infection may even spread to the intestines and make nutrient absorption more difficult.
Topical antifungal medications are usually used for treatment, which come in gel or liquid forms. However, tablets or capsules may sometimes be used as well. You will have to apply topical medications several times a day for around 7 to 14 days.
If you suspect that antibiotics or corticosteroids are the cause, talk to your GP about changing your medication, the dosage or the way the medication is delivered.
The following measures may help you reduce your risk of developing oral thrush and other candida infections:
- Rinse your mouth with water or brush your teeth after using a corticosteroid inhaler
- Clean your dentures every day
- Brush your teeth twice a day and floss at least once a day
- Limit sugar intake and reduce the amount of yeast-containing foods you eat as they encourage candida growth
- See your dentist regularly, especially if you wear dentures or have diabetes