Thrush or more accurately oral thrush is a fungal infection of the mouth. Specifically it is the fungus Candida Albicans. Oral thrush forms milky white lesions that line the inside of the cheeks and can also appear on the tongue and gums. The lesions of oral thrush can be quite painful. If left untreated thrush can spread throughout the mouth and the to back of the throat. Oral thrush is most common in toddlers and young children who are prone to putting dirty hands an feet in their mouths. It can also occur in healthy adults or more commonly in adults with compromised immune systems. In a healthy adult thrush is a relatively minor condition that can usually be easily treated. In a person with a compromised immune system such as due to HIV/AIDS it can be more serious.
Signs and Symptoms of Oral ThrushThrush usually appears as cottage cheese-like lesions on the inner surface of the cheeks. The lesions may be painful and may bleed when scraped or while brushing your teeth. If the infection spreads to the throat you may experience pain while swallowing or get the feeling that something is stuck in your throat. Thrush may seem to appear suddenly yet persist for some time. Thrush is also quite common in newborns and nursing mothers. Nursing mothers often get a thrush infection at the nipple site which can be passed on to the baby as oral thrush and visa-versa creating a cycle of passing the fungal infection back and forth from mother to baby. Babies can be born with or thrush if their mother has a yeast infection. The fungus Candida that causes oral thrush is the same one as most vaginal yeast infections and babies can get oral thrush when they pass through the birth canal.
What Causes Thrush?Thrush is a microbial, in this case fungal infection. Microbes are microscopic organisms, bacteria, molds, and fungi that are all around us. Many of them even live within our bodies and on our skin. Some are beneficial, others not so much. Our Immune system helps maintain that delicate balance between the “good” bugs and the “bad” ones. Anything that throws your immune system out of whack can allow opportunistic microbes like Candida to gain a foothold and cause conditions like thrush or yeast infections. Use of antibiotics and other medications can weaken the immune system, as can medical conditions such as:
There is somewhat rare disorder known as Chronic Mucocutaneous Candidiasis that makes a person subject to repetitive and chronic candida infections including oral thrush.
Treatment for ThrushChildren and healthy adults with oral thrush can be treated relatively easily. In fact children and toddlers may require no treatment at all. A pediatrician may often suggest adding yogurt to the child’s diet to help restore a normal microbial balance. If a thrush infections does not readily clear up on its own in an infant or child a doctor may prescribe anti-fungal medications. Nursing mothers and their infants with thrush need to both be treated to avoid continually passing the infection to one another. An anti-fungal cream may be recommended to apply to the breasts and nipples.
Otherwise healthy adults can usually help speed up the clearing of a thrush infection by adding unsweetened yogurt to their diets, or taking Acidophilus capsules. Sometime oral anti-fungal medications or rinses may be prescribed. The condition is a little more severe and difficult to treat in someone with a compromised immune system such as the result of HIV/AIDS or chemotherapy, and such individuals should discuss treatment options with their doctors.
PreventionAs in most fungal infections, the best way to treat a case of oral thrush is to avoid getting it in the first place: Thrush can be avoided by:
- Practising good oral hygiene
- Seeing your dentist regularly
- Eating more yogurt, especially if you are taking antibiotics
- Treating vaginal yeast infections quickly
Microbes like mould, bacteria, and fungi are all around us but we can take measures to minimize our exposure to them, avoiding nasty infections.