Thrush, also known as candidiasis or moniliasis, is a fungal infection in the mouth that’s characterized by the rapid reproduction of yeast. While it’s far more prevalent in babies, adults and the elderly may also develop this condition.
Oral thrush may begin as nothing more than a few white sores on the tongue and cheek, but it can quickly spread throughout the mouth if not properly treated.
In severe cases, the white bumps associated with this condition can make it difficult for individuals to chew, swallow, or brush their teeth. Any pressure placed against these bumps may create signals of pain. When a person stops brushing his or her teeth due to the presence of painful thrush bumps, the condition may become progressively worse.
What Causes Oral Thrush?
Thrush is caused by the reproduction of the fungi candida. This fungus is commonly found in the mouth, digestive system, and the skin, even in people who do not show symptoms. When elements promote rapid reproduction of candida, such as a weakened immune system or the use of certain prescription drugs, symptoms may manifest.
Risk factors known to play a role in the formation of thrush include the following:
- Age – Babies and the elderly have a higher risk of developing thrush. The small amount of the candida fungus that normally lives in the mouth is kept in check by the immune system. However, oral thrush may occur in babies because their immune systems have not yet matured or, in the case of the elderly, because their immune system is weakened with age. With the immune system not working at optimal capacity, individuals in both stages of life are less able to resist infection.
- Diabetes – Diabetes, especially when it is poorly controlled, reduces the body’s resistance to infection, making individuals prone to thrush. Dentists may recommend medicated mouth rinses or more frequent dental checkups.
- Antibiotics – While antibiotics are great for killing germs in the mouth, they don’t kill candida. In fact, they sometimes also destroy the bacteria that helps prevent the fungus from growing out of control.
- Poor denture care – If dentures are not fitting properly, kept clean, or removed at night, then this contributes to denture stomatitis. This causes the soft tissue and gums to become irritated which is ideal for the growth of the candida fungus.
- Dry mouth – Inadequate saliva production creates an environment in the mouth that kills certain bacterias but allows bad bacteria like candida to thrive. Dry mouth can occur for many reason, such as mouth breathing, medications, and smoking.
- Immune deficiencies – The immunosuppression that results from chronic illness dramatically changes the balance of protective mechanisms in the body that fight the infection from spreading.
- Topical or systemic corticosteroids – Cortisone medications used to treat allergies, asthmas, arthritis, and other skin problems can increase a person’s risk of developing oral thrush. This can be avoided by using a spacer or rinsing the mouth after use of an inhaler.
- Malnutrition – Whether it is the result of poor diet or a condition that affects the absorption of nutrients, malnutrition can weaken the immune system and cause infection.
Oral Thrush in Children
According to the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 5-7% of all babies younger than one month of age will develop thrush.
Symptoms of a baby with oral thrush include cracked skin at the corners of the mouth as well as white patches on the tongue, lips, or inside the mouth that look a little like cottage cheese that can’t be wiped away.
Additionally, you may notice that a baby with oral thrush might not feed well or are uncomfortable when suckingdue the soreness in their mouth. However, in many cases, the many children do not display signs of discomfort or pain.
When infected, both the baby and the nursing mother must be treated to prevent the passing of the infection from one to the other. A dentist or healthcare provider can prescribe an antifungal oral medication, while an antifungal cream might be necessary for treatment of an infected breast.
Oral Thrush Treatment
There are many treatment options available for children and adults suffering from thrush. Treatments vary depending on the patient and his or her condition but may include the use of an antifungal mouthrinse, syrup, lozenges, or pills. Some people have reported success treating mild cases of thrush by consuming yogurt, as the natural probiotics fight the infection.
Oral Thrush Prevention
Good oral hygiene plays an important role in the prevention of thrush. This includes brushing teeth at least twice a day, flossing daily, and complementing these efforts with an ADA-approved mouth rinse. By maintaining good oral hygiene, both children and adults can discourage the thrush fungi from reproducing.
Having the teeth cleaned and inspected by a professional Little Rock dentist is another important step in the prevention of thrush. In a typical cleaning, the dentist will scrape off hard, stubborn plaque—plaque that may promote the formation of thrush.