Oral thrush develops when yeast attacks the mucous membranes in the mouth and cause infection. It can affect babies and adults, especially those who wear dentures, use inhaled corticosteroids and have weak immune system. Affected individuals may find it difficult to eat and swallow and notice cream-colored lesions inside the mouth. These lesions can make sucking uncomfortable and sometimes painful in babies. The infection may spread further to the gums, roof of the mouth, tonsils and throat.
Scraping won’t eliminate oral thrush but only cause it to bleed slightly. The problem may resolve on its own in a week or longer. Still, it would be best to have it checked by the doctor who will prescribe treatment based on the cause of infection, age and overall health of the patient. Treatment is usually aimed at stopping the infection from spreading further and cause more serious health problems.
Cause of Oral Thrush
The mouth houses various microorganisms, including Candida, which are kept at a healthy level by the immune system. Oral thrush develops when the population of the yeast Candida inside the mouth goes out of control. This can be attributed to a weakened immune system which makes it hard for the body to fight infection. The healthy population of Candida inside the mouth can also be disturbed by anything the person drinks, consumes or is suffering from, such as:
- Diet high in sugar
Candida feed on sugar, so anyone who consumes a high sugar diet is at higher risk of oral thrush.
- Drug treatment
Being treated with the use of certain drugs like antibiotics and corticosteroids causes candida to grow significantly. These drugs kill the good bacteria which then lowers the immune response against infection. Radiation therapy and chemotherapy have the same effect too.
- Wearing ill-fitted dentures
An ill-fitted denture can irritate the gums and mucous membranes which become the entry point for candida.
- Underlying medical conditions
Diabetes, cancer and AIDS are notorious for causing oral thrush because the body’s defense against infection has dropped significantly.
While Candida albicans accounts for most cases of oral candidiasis, other fungi belonging to the Candida group can also cause yeast infection in the mouth. These include Candida tropicalis and Candida glabrata.
Is oral thrush contagious?
One cannot catch the infection by simply kissing an infected person. However, this could increase the amount of Candida present in the person’s mouth. But in the case of oral thrush in babies, it can be contagious to breastfeeding moms. This is because breastfeeding becomes the avenue for the Candida infection to transfer to and from the baby’s mouth and mother’s breasts. The infection causes several unpleasant symptoms to breastfeeding moms, which include:
- Itchy nipples
- Redness and increased sensitivity of the nipples
- Painful nipples during breastfeeding
- Flaky and shiny skin around the areola
- Sharp pain within the breasts
Oral Thrush Symptoms
Oral thrush appears like cottage cheese white patches on the tongue, gums, inner cheeks and roof of the mouth. They cannot be removed through scraping, but causes the patches to bleed instead. They can be painful and sometimes spread to the tonsils and esophagus, making it difficult to swallow. The whitish patches are slightly elevated and create a cottony feeling inside the mouth. There is some redness and cracked skin on the corners of the mouth among those who wear ill-fitted dentures.
Anyone can be affected by oral thrush, but infants below 6 months and the elderly are the prime targets. Infants have yet to fortify their immune systems, while old age causes the immune system to weaken. Also, the infection is remarkably common among people with suppressed immunity like cancer patients, diabetics and AIDS patients.
Is oral thrush life-threatening?
Candida infection in the mouth can be problematic and even life-threatening for babies and for those with compromised immunity. The infection can spread further down to the digestive tract, liver and lungs. Oral thrush can deprive babies of adequate nutrition because it makes sucking uncomfortable and painful. It can also make eating and swallowing difficult.
Whether the symptoms are mild or severe, the infection warrants a trip to the doctor’s office. The infection can be easily diagnosed through physical exam. The doctor might request for blood test, tissue sample, throat culture and even endoscopy to determine how far the infection has spread and rule out any undiagnosed medical condition.
Treatment of oral thrush
The treatment for oral thrush helps the patient deal with the effects of Candida infection inside the mouth and prevents it from spreading further. It is designed based on the cause, overall health and age of the patient. Yet, oral thrush may only be a momentary annoyance for healthy individuals as it will disappear even without treatment. Home remedies, such as eating unsweetened yogurt and healthy and balanced diet, have been proven effective in treating oral candidiasis in healthy individuals. But in babies and adults, antifungal medications and creams might be prescribed. Those with compromised immunity will need stronger medications to fight the infection.
Oral Thrush Pictures