Oral thrush is a yeast infection that manifests primarily on the tongue. It can also be present in the throat, tonsils, and throughout the mouth and pharynx. You may have encountered the term “thrush” about vaginal yeast infections, but don’t assume that what affects your genital area is the same as what affects your mouth.
There are two main types of Oral Thrush:
Affecting the surface lining of the mouth (also known as “Angular Cheilitis”) – this is the more common variety, and it involves a combination of thick, white patches and small, red spots.
Affecting the tongue – this type produces thin, white patches on the tongue surface, accompanied by a thick, white coating.
This yeast infection can be very uncomfortable, but you will get through it easily by following a few simple self-care instructions. Oral Thrush, also known as Oral Candidiasis, is caused by a yeast species called “Candida Albicans.” It occurs mostly in children and toddlers. But it can also affect adults in rare instances. It is important to note that this type of candidiasis and other forms generated by yeast infections, such as vaginal yeast infections, are usually not sexually transmitted.
Symptoms of Oral Thrush
Your tongue characterizes this infection as coated with a thick white film. It may be painful, or it may not be painful. You may also notice that your tongue is dense and coated. You may even see white spots in between your teeth. There may be a slight burning sensation when you move your tongue. There may also be a burning sensation in your throat.
The most common symptoms of Oral Thrush include:
- A slight burning sensation accompanies a thick white coating on the tongue’s surface.
- White spots on the tongue, which are accompanied by burning when you move your tongue.
- A strong smell sometimes accompanies painful spots on the surface of the mouth.
- A burning feeling in the throat and neck area.
- Cotton-like sensation in the mouth is also a common symptom of Oral Thrush.
- Loss of taste.
- Irritation and pain under dentures.
Causes of Oral Thrush
Oral Thrush is caused by a fungus or yeast called “Candida Albicans.” The condition occurs when your immune system becomes compromised, leading to this particular fungus having the opportunity to spread.
It is considered normal for small amounts of C albicans to live in your mouth without causing any harm. When your immune system works optimally, beneficial bacteria help keep C albicans under control. However, Candida can multiply rapidly when your immune system cannot do this, causing Thrush.
Bad oral hygiene can also play a significant role in allowing C albicans to grow out of control. Candida is normally kept in check by beneficial bacteria such as Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria. This yeast will be allowed to grow if these bacteria are reduced because of poor oral hygiene.
Yet another cause of candidiasis is taking medications that have been shown to weaken the immune system. These medications may include:
- Heart Medication (Digoxin)
- Blood pressure medication (Atenolol) and many others.
Because of this, there is a heightened possibility that candidiasis can occur in the mouth, depending on the medication you take. Regardless, if you are taking medication that has been shown to weaken your immune system, then it is recommended for you to remain cautious about oral Thrush. This is because if this yeast infection is left untreated, it can cause dental damage in your mouth and an unpleasant odor.
You may also be at risk for this condition if you have a compromised immune system because of another state. The most common diagnosis that causes a compromised immune system include:
People with HIV/AIDS risk developing oral Thrush (oral candidiasis) as the immune system is weakened when infected with HIV.
Diabetes, especially diabetes that is not well controlled, causes this particular fungal infection more likely. This is because of the high blood glucose levels present in the body.
People with Crohn’s disease have a weakened immune system. Oral thrush is one of the most common fungal infections in people with Crohn’s.
Ulcerative colitis (an inflammatory bowel disease) can also cause this condition.
Is Oral Thrush Contagious?
This particular fungal infection is not contagious. The only way it can be transmitted is when you come into direct, physical contact with someone suffering from the condition. Kissing is a cause for concern in this regard because if you are infected and someone kisses you, then that person will also become infected. But since the condition is not highly contagious in that manner, this means that after your infection has cleared up, you will be able to kiss anyone without fear of spreading the disease.
The fungus which causes oral thrush is most commonly found in the mouth, throat, and tongue. It can also be found on the soft palate, causing pain and irritation in a person’s throat.
However, it is possible to pass the fungus from one body part to another, which is why this disease can last. This can occur when a person with a thrush in his mouth accidentally touches the soft palate or tongue, passing the fungus to these areas.
A pregnant woman with a vaginal yeast infection has a higher risk of passing this condition to her unborn baby. During delivery, the baby will most likely come in contact with the fungus, which is why this condition is considered one of the biggest causes of newborn infections.
If you have a breast yeast infection, you should know that you can pass this infection on to your child during breastfeeding. You can do this through direct skin-to-skin contact with your child.
C. albicans is also very common in the environment, so you can easily get it from your surroundings. If you touch objects in places such as gyms, swimming pools, and showers in public areas, you may have increased chances of developing oral thrush.
Diagnosis of Oral Thrush
Your doctor can easily determine if you have oral thrush. They will ask you a series of questions about your symptoms. They will also examine your mouth, throat, and tongue. The doctor will examine your mouth to see the characteristics of lesions caused by candidiasis.
In addition to the oral examination, which is only a preliminary part of the cumulative diagnosis process, the doctor will also do a biopsy test on the lesions. They will take a small sample of white matter, or connective tissue, from the lesion and send it to the lab for testing.
The doctor will use a microscope to observe the sample under a microscope and look for changes in the cell wall caused by the Candida. The biopsy results are commonly used to determine whether or not you have oral thrush. If the doctor thinks the oral thrush may have extended to your esophagus, they will use a throat swab to test for other infections.
This test is much like a nasal swab test, where your doctor will take a sample from the back of your throat and send it off to be tested under a microscope. If you have this condition, your doctor will most likely prescribe medications.
Treatment of Oral Thrush
The main treatment for oral thrush is the use of prescription medications that are specifically designed to treat this fungal infection. Many medicines can be used to treat it, and your doctor will choose the best one for you. Depending on your medication, your doctor may recommend that you take a different dosage than what they would for someone else. There are a variety of other medicines that can be used for oral thrush:
Doctors commonly prescribe a drug called Nystatin to treat this particular condition. This medicine comes in many forms, including liquid and powder, the most widely used. Your doctor will tell you which form to use based on the condition you have and the dosage that is recommended.
Nystatin can come in pill, suppository, and mouthwash forms. It is a powder that you place under your tongue. This medicine kills the fungus in your mouth.
You can also buy this medication in oil form, which is meant to be placed under your tongue or in the nostrils.
Another popular medication is Fluconazole, also used to treat this fungal infection. This medicine can be taken as a pill, liquid, or by mouth.