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Oral thrush: Causes And Treatment

Posted On: February 26, 2020

Oral thrush: Causes And Treatment

What is Oral thrush?

Oral thrush is also called oral candidiasis. It’s a fungi or yeast infection that often develops in the mouth. This condition commonly happens when the fungus Candida Albicans accumulates in the mucus membrane of the mouth. It should be noted that candida in the mouth is normal but can sometimes overgrow and result in the symptoms of oral thrush. Aside the fungus Candida Albicans, oral thrush may also be caused by Candida Glabrata or Candida Tropicalis. This condition is usually characterized by creamy lesions usually on the tongue, or inner cheeks, even though it could sometimes spread to other parts of the mouth, including the gums, the tonsils, the back of the throat as well as the root of the mouth. Oral thrush or oral candidiasis can affect anyone, but there are shreds of evidences that the condition is more common among babies and older adults with reduced immunities. Oral thrush can also easily occur in people whose immune systems have been suppressed by certain medical conditions and some medications.

The signs and symptoms of oral thrush

Most people with oral thrush do not notice any symptoms initially. However, if your immune system has been weakened, the signs and symptoms of oral thrush may be more severe and could even go out of control. That said, some of the most common signs and symptoms of oral thrush include;

  • Creamy white lesions in different parts of the mouth, such as the tongue, the inner cheeks, the gum, the tonsils and the roof of your mouth;
  • A slightly raised lesion that has the appearance of a cottage cheese;
  • The loss of taste;
  • A feeling like there is cotton in the mouth;
  • Cracking and redness at the corners of the mouth;
  • Soreness and burning that could be so severe that eating and swallowing becomes difficult;
  • Irritation, pain or redness under dentures;
  • Bleeding when the lesions in the mouth are scrapped, etc.

It is worthy to note that when oral thrush becomes so severe and is associated with conditions such as HIV and cancer, it can easily spread downward into the esophagus. Of course, when this happens, patients may experience symptoms including pain, difficulty swallowing, as well as the feeling that food is stuck in the throat.

Types of oral thrush

Oral thrush is divided into three major categories based on the appearance. Well, sometimes, it’s hard to categorize oral thrush, especially when it sits in-between two categories. The three main categories of oral thrush nevertheless include;

  • Pseudomembranous: This is the most common type of oral thrush and it’s not necessarily associated with other health conditions.
  • Erythematous (atrophic): This is the type of oral thrush that has a red raw appearance. It isn’t white.
  • Hyperplastic: This form of oral thrush is also known as plaque-like candidiasis or nodular candidiasis. Unlike Erythematous which is red, Hyperplastic is characterized by a white plaque which is quite hard to remove. Even though hyperplastic is not very common, it’s mostly found in HIV positive people.

Causes of oral thrush

The role of the immune system is to work hard in a bid to repel harmful organisms, including viruses, bacteria and fungi that invade the body. Of course, the immune system performs this protective function while simultaneously maintaining a balance between the good and bad microbes of the body. However, these protective mechanisms could fail and subsequently result in infections such as oral thrush.

It is however worthy to note that the presence of tiny quantities of candida fungus is normal in various parts of the human body, including the digestive system, the skin and the mouth, etc. These fungi do not normally cause any health problems and there are indications that an estimated 75% of the total population of the world are carriers of Candida albicans, which is the major cause of oral thrush. That said, people whose immune systems have been weakened by certain medical conditions are more susceptible to oral thrush. Moreover, individuals who are on certain medications equally have a higher chance of developing oral thrush.

What are the risk factors of oral thrush?

Individuals with the following conditions are more susceptible to an oral thrush infection;

Individuals with weak immune systems

Generally, the prevalence of oral thrush is higher in infants and older adults because their immunity is lower. Some medical conditions such as HIV/AIDS can also suppress the immune system and make patients more susceptible to oral thrush. In addition, certain treatments such chemotherapy, which is used in treating cancer, can equally reduce immunity and increase the risk of developing an oral thrush infection.

Individuals with vaginal yeast infection

Women who have vaginal yeast infections are equally at a higher risk of developing oral thrush. This assertion can be explained by the fact that vaginal yeast infections are caused by the exact fungus (Candida albicans) that causes oral thrush.

Individuals with untreated diabetes

People with untreated diabetes may also develop oral thrush. The reason is that the saliva of people with diabetes sometimes contains large amounts of sugar, which is conducive for the growth of oral thrush.

Individuals on certain medications

Certain medications can also increase the risk of an oral thrush infection. This assertion can be backed by the fact that medications such as inhaled corticosteroids, and antibiotics are known to disrupt the natural balance of microorganisms in the body, thereby increasing the risk of oral thrush.

People who wear dentures

People who wear dentures also have a higher chance of developing oral thrush. This is particularly the case if the dentures are not kept clean, or do not fit properly.

People who eat poorly

There are indications that malnutrition also increases the risk of oral thrush. For example, diets that are low in iron, vitamins B12, as well as folic acid are known to be associated with oral thrush infections.


Certain poor habits such as smoking can also increase the risk of an oral thrush infection. Even though the reason behind this isn’t yet clear, it has been observed that most heavy smokers have an oral thrush infection.

Complications of oral thrush

Oral thrush rarely results in any complications. However, oral thrush could be serious in people who have a weak immune system caused by other health conditions such as cancer and HIV/AIDS. If oral thrush is left untreated in people with a weakened immune system, it could result in a more serious infection that could possibly spread to other parts of the body, especially to the esophagus.

How is oral thrush diagnosed?

It is easy to diagnose oral thrush, but that of course depends on the location of the infection and whether or not there are other underlying conditions. Your doctor will therefore begin by examining your mouth to check for lesions, before scrapping a portion of the lesion and observing it under a microscope. Your doctor may also do a physical exam and some blood tests to rule out the possibility of any underlying medical condition that may be the cause of oral thrush.

However, if the oral thrush has spread to the esophagus, then your doctor may request for a biopsy, to rule out the possibility of other conditions such as cancer

Treatment of oral thrush

The treatment of oral thrush aims at preventing the rapid spread of the fungus.  But of course, the right treatment approach is usually determined by factors, such as the age of the patient, the overall health of the patient as well as the cause of the condition. That said, the treatment of oral thrush typically involves the use of anti-fungal medications, which could either be tablets or a liquid.

Lifestyle and home remedies for oral thrush

  • Always practice good oral hygiene
  • Rinse your mouth with warm salt water
  • Use a soft toothbrush so you do not scrap the lesions caused by an oral thrush infection
  • Use a new toothbrush daily, until the symptoms of oral thrush are all gone
  • Disinfect your dentures regularly. You can seek help on how to do this from your dentist
  • Consume more unsweetened yoghurt to restore the healthy bacteria level in you
  • Avoid using mouth washes or sprays

How can oral thrush be prevented?

  • Always rinse your mouth with water or brush your teeth after taking your medications.
  • Remember to brush your teeth at least twice a day. Moreover, floss at least once or as often as recommended by your dentist
  • Check your dentures and ensure that they fit properly. In addition, you should clean your dentures daily and also remember to remove them before going to bed at night
  • Consult with your dentist regularly, especially if you have diabetes or put on dentures
  • Watch what you eat and try as much as possible to limit the amount of sugar containing foods you eat. Bear in mind that sugary foods are conducive for the growth of candida.
  • If you have diabetes, be sure to maintain good blood sugar control
  • Make sure you treat vaginal yeast infections as soon as you are diagnosed
  • Treat dry mouth and ask your doctor how to avoid it.


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