Oral thrush is an infection of the mouth caused by the candida fungus, more commonly known as yeast. This is an infection known to affect infants and their mothers through breastfeeding, but it can also affect toddlers, older adults and those with a compromised immune system.
Small amounts of the candida fungus are naturally occurring in the mouth and other parts of the body such as the skin and digestive tract. Bacteria and microorganisms that exist in your body keep the fungus in check, but there are some things that can knock the precious balance out of whack.
Certain illnesses, stress and medications can throw off the balance of fungus and bacteria in your body. When this happens, the fungus can grow to abnormal levels and cause thrush. Inhaled corticosteriods, antibiotics and birth control pills could upset this delicate balance. Hormonal changes due to pregnancy, HIV, unchecked diabetes and dry mouth can all be the cause of a shifting balance in the candida fungus.
Oral thrush will usually show itself as white, raised bumps on the tongue and inside of the cheeks but it can spread to other parts of the mouth such as the gums, roof of the mouth, tonsils, or back of the throat. The little white bumps or lesions can be painful and will usually bleed if they are scraped with a toothbrush.
In more serious cases, thrush can affect the esophagus or swallowing tube. If this happens, there may be associated pain, fever and difficulty swallowing.
Your dentist can diagnose thrush with a simple exam if it has not spread too far. Thrush in the esophagus may require a throat culture or x- ray to diagnose.
In a healthy child or adult, oral thrush can usually be easily eliminated with antifungal medications. If you have a compromised immune system treatment may be more difficult and complex.
To avoid oral thrush, practice good oral hygiene every day. Visit your dentist regularly and avoid mouthwashes and sprays as they can upset the delicate balance of bacteria and fungus in the mouth. Smokers are especially at risk for oral thrush so ask your doctor to help you find a plan to quit. Prevention and good oral hygiene will help you avoid the discomfort of dealing with oral thrush.