Oral thrush

Oral thrush, also called oral candidiasis, is an infection in the mouth and throat. It is characterized by creamy white lesions on the inner cheeks, gums, tongue, and back of the throat. Some may experience a cottony feeling in the mouth that is similar to having a mouth full of cotton wool. Oral thrush can also cause redness (without the white lesions) in the mouths of denture wearers.

Causes and triggers

Oral thrush is a yeast infection caused by the fungus Candida albicans. While it is a naturally occurring fungus in our mouths, it can at times multiply and cause an infection. The same fungus is also responsible for causing diaper rash in babies and vaginitis in women.

Anyone can develop thrush, but some are more at risk, including:

  • Babies
  • The elderly (especially those who wear dentures)
  • Those being treated with antibiotics
  • Those using inhaled corticosteroids to treat asthma
  • Those with compromised immune systems (e.g., due to chemotherapy or HIV)

Treatment

Thrush is treated with a prescription antifungal medication.

Here are some measures that may help prevent recurrences:

  • Keep your mouth clean by brushing teeth 2 to 3 times a day, after each meal.
  • Rinse your mouth after using a corticosteroid inhaler.
    • Use a spacer with the inhaler and replace the spacer every 12 to 24 months if used daily.
  • Use a new toothbrush once the infection has resolved.
  • Avoid foods that are high in sugar since they can promote yeast growth.

Denture wearers should also add the following oral hygiene measures to their daily routine:

  • Thoroughly clean dentures daily with a disinfectant (e.g., Polident).
  • After cleaning, allow dentures to dry completely.
  • Brush dentures after every meal.

When should I see a medical professional?

  • If there is intense pain or fever, or if you experience a great deal of difficulty swallowing.
  • If the infection persists, or if symptoms worsen.
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