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Updated on September 27, 2022

What Oral Thrush Looks Like, Symptoms & How to Treat it

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What is Oral Thrush?

Oral thrush (oral candidiasis) is a yeast infection. The most common type of Candida fungus that causes thrush is Candida albicans. These fungi live in the mucous membranes lining the mouth. 

Most people have small traces of Candida in their mouths. In some cases, the fungi can overgrow and cause thrush.

Candidiasis most commonly affects people with weakened immune systems, such as infants or adults taking certain medications. However, the condition can affect people of all ages.

Thrush is difficult to notice, at least at first, and does not cause severe pain. By itself, thrush does not indicate a serious medical problem, though it can affect quality of life.

What Does Thrush Look Like?

Oral thrush looks like white spots (lesions) on the tongue, palate, or buccal mucosa (lining of the cheek and back of the lips). These spots often have a consistency similar to cottage cheese.

When you wipe them off, they leave a red, raw base. Doing this can also cause minor bleeding. Oral thrush can also cause a mild burning sensation.

Pictures of Oral Thrush

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Oral Thrush 4

Symptoms of Oral Thrush

Thrush can cause some, or all, of the following symptoms:

  • White patches (lesions) on the tongue, palate, cheeks, or inner lips
  • Sore mouth, lips, cheeks, tongue, or throat
  • Redness around the lesions
  • Dry or cracked lips
  • Decreased sense of taste
  • A burning sensation around the lesions
  • Cottonmouth or dry mouth
  • Reduced ability to swallow, speak, and eat

What Causes Oral Thrush?

Thrush can be triggered by a variety of factors, including existing medical conditions and poor oral health:

Antibiotics

Anyone taking antibiotics may develop thrush symptoms because the medications can alter the balance of good and bad microorganisms in the mouth.

According to Dr. Khushbu Aggarwal, one of NewMouth's in-house dentists, "antibiotics, although necessary, can upset the delicate balance of the microorganisms in your body. Make sure to take antibiotics with a probiotic such as yogurt."

Dry Mouth

Dry mouth is an oral condition that occurs when the salivary glands in the mouth do not produce enough saliva. Inadequate saliva production increases the risk of oral thrush.

Poor Oral Hygiene

Using an old toothbrush with harbored fungus can also cause thrush. It is recommended to switch toothbrushes or toothbrush tips at least every three months to prevent the spread of bacteria and fungus.

"A good rule of thumb is to switch out your toothbrush once the bristles start to splay or after you have gotten over a sickness like the common cold," says Dr. Aggarwal.

HSV-1 Infection

Herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) is a highly contagious infection that causes cold sores and may also cause mild candidiasis. HSV-1 is a lifelong disease that spreads through close personal contact, such as kissing and sharing utensils.

Cancer Treatment

Oral thrush is the most common fungal infection cancer patients get while receiving treatment. Cancer treatments weaken the immune system, which can trigger the overgrowth of Candida fungus.

Pregnancy & Yeast Infections

Pregnant women are at a higher risk of developing oral candidiasis. This is due to extreme changes in vaginal hormones. If a woman has a yeast infection while giving birth, the infection can also be transferred to the baby during labor.

Steroids

Using steroid medications long-term can cause this condition. If you frequently use an asthma inhaler that contains steroids, you have an increased risk of developing oral candidiasis. This is because steroids compromise the immune system, says Dr. Aggarwal.

Bottles and Pacifiers

Pacifiers and baby bottles can make a baby’s mouth too moist, creating the ideal environment for yeast to grow in. Babies should not go to sleep with a bottle in their mouths, and pacifier use should be limited throughout the day.

Thoroughly clean pacifiers and bottle nipples in the dishwasher or soak them in hot water after each use to remove bacteria and fungus.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends stopping pacifier use altogether after a baby turns 6 months old. This helps prevent thrush and other oral conditions such as bite changes.

Uncontrolled Diabetes

High levels of glucose make it easier for Candida fungus to grow. More specifically, people with diabetes who do not monitor their blood sugar accurately have a higher risk of developing yeast infections.

Weakened Immune Systems

People who have diabetes, HIV/AIDS, or take steroid medications are also at risk of developing thrush. In these cases, thrush can be life-threatening since the body is not strong enough to fight it off.

Oral Thrush in Babies and Children

Babies and children are susceptible to developing candidiasis because they have decreased immunity. Infants are most susceptible to developing thrush in their first year of life.

Young children are more likely to develop the condition if they:

  • Have taken antibiotics due to sicknesses
  • Do not clean orthodontic appliances before use
  • Use an inhaler for asthma
  • Have a weaker immune system than most children
  • Frequently use a pacifier (babies)
  • Were born prematurely and had a low birth weight

If a mother has a vaginal yeast infection while giving birth, the baby can contract it during vaginal delivery.

Oral Thrush Treatments

Thrush is a non-life-threatening infection. With proper treatment, it typically goes away within a few days to two weeks. If it doesn't resolve within this timeframe, contact your general dentist.

The first line of treatment for oral thrush is topical medications. If these are not effective, then a systemic medication may be needed.

Treatments may include:

1. Antifungal Medications

Kills bacterial funguses inside the mouth. Common medications used to treat thrush include miconazole, clotrimazole, nystatin, itraconazole, and fluconazole. They may come in the form of a tablet, a mouth rinse, or a lozenge.

2. Antiseptics

These medications prevent the growth of Candida fungus, while also killing harmful bacteria in your mouth. An example is the mouthwash Paroex.

3. Dietary Supplements

Probiotics may be prescribed to support the growth of “healthy” bacteria. Eating unsweetened yogurt can also reduce the symptoms and discomfort of candida infections.

More research needs to be done to determine specific strains of probiotics to help with oral thrush. However, the general theory is that live cultures help improve the condition.

4. Throat Lozenges

If oral thrush causes a sore throat, throat lozenges (cough drops) can relieve discomfort. These medications can be bought directly at a drugstore without a prescription. They are also relatively inexpensive.

How Do You Prevent Oral Thrush?

The best way to prevent thrush is to practice good oral hygiene.

Children and adults should:

  • Brush their teeth with fluoride toothpaste twice a day
  • Floss once a day
  • Use mouthwash regularly
  • Clean oral appliances regularly, such as retainers or dentures

Every six months, you should also visit a dentist for teeth cleanings.

Oral Thrush FAQs

Is oral thrush contagious?

Oral thrush is a non-contagious fungal infection of the mouth.

Can oral thrush go away on its own?

Oral thrush can be mild and go away on its own within a few days. However, more severe cases may require anti-fungal medications and home remedies.

Can oral thrush make you feel unwell?

For most people, oral thrush does not cause any serious symptoms. If you have severe symptoms, it could be something else, like trench mouth.

How long does it take for oral thrush to go away?

Thrush is a non-life-threatening infection that typically goes away within a few days to two weeks (severe cases) with proper treatment. If it doesn't resolve within this timeframe, contact your dentist as soon as possible.

What medication is best for oral thrush?

Common medications used to treat thrush include miconazole, clotrimazole, nystatin, itraconazole, and fluconazole. They may come in the form of a tablet, a mouth rinse, or a lozenge.

6 Sources Cited
Last updated on September 27, 2022
All NewMouth content is medically reviewed and fact-checked by a licensed dentist or orthodontist to ensure the information is factual, current, and relevant.

We have strict sourcing guidelines and only cite from current scientific research, such as scholarly articles, dentistry textbooks, government agencies, and medical journals. This also includes information provided by the American Dental Association (ADA), the American Association of Orthodontics (AAO), and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
  1. Candida Infections of the Mouth, Throat, and Esophagus | Fungal Diseases | CDC.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
  2. Mundula et al. "Effect of Probiotics on Oral Candidiasis: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis." Nutrients, Oct. 2019
  3. Nowak, Arthur J. "Pediatric Dentistry: Infancy through Adolescence." Elsevier, 2019.
  4. "Oral thrush: Overview." Cologne, Germany: Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG); 2006
  5. Thrush (Oral Candida Infection) in Children.Thrush (Oral Candida Infection) in Children - Health Encyclopedia - University of Rochester Medical Center
  6. Wheddon, Kathy. "Could probiotics help with oral thrush?" Optibac Probiotics, 26 Sept. 2019
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