If you notice a strange white rash inside your mouth, you may have a condition called thrush. It’s an infection caused by the candida fungus, which is yeast. You can get it in your mouth and other parts of the body. It can cause diaper rash in infants or vaginal yeast infections in women.
Anyone can get thrush, but it happens most often to babies and toddlers, older adults, and people with weakened immune systems.
What Causes Thrush?
Small amounts of the candida fungus are in your mouth, digestive tract, and skin. It’s supposed to be there, and it’s usually kept under control by the other bacteria in your body. But sometimes, certain illnesses or medications, like corticosteroids or antibiotics, can disturb the balance. This can cause the fungus to grow out of control. That’s when you get thrush.
Stress can cause it. So can a number of medical conditions, like:
If you smoke or wear dentures that don’t fit right might, you’re also more likely to get thrush. And babies can pass the infection to their mothers while breastfeeding.
What Are the Symptoms?
White, slightly raised areas in your mouth are common signs of thrush. They’re usually found on your tongue or inner cheeks. They can also appear on the roof of your mouth, gums, tonsils, or the back of your throat. These areas may look like cottage cheese. They can be painful and may bleed slightly when you scrape them or brush your teeth. In very bad cases, they can spread into your esophagus and cause:
- Pain when you swallow or difficulty swallowing
- A feeling that food is stuck in your throat or in the middle of your chest
- Fever, if the infection spreads beyond the esophagus
The fungus that causes thrush can spread to other parts of the body, like the lungs, liver, and skin. This happens more often in people with cancer, HIV, or other conditions that weaken the immune system.
How Will I Know if I Have It?
Your dentist or doctor can probably tell by taking a look inside your mouth. Your doctor might also send a tiny sample of the spot to a lab just to make sure.
If the fungus that causes thrush spreads into your esophagus, you may have to have other tests, like:
- A throat culture (a swab of the back of your throat)
- An endoscopy of your esophagus, stomach, and small intestine
- X-rays of your esophagus
What’s the Treatment?
Thrush is easy to treat in healthy children and adults. But the symptoms may be worse and harder to treat in people with weak immune systems.
Your doctor will probably prescribe antifungal medications that you’ll have to take for 10 to 14 days. These come in tablets, lozenges, or liquids, and are generally easy to take.
How Can I Prevent Thrush?
Practice good oral hygiene. Brush your teeth at least twice a day and floss at least once a day.
Get regular dental checkups. Especially if you have diabetes or wear dentures. Even if you’re healthy and don’t have dental issues, you should get your teeth cleaned by your dentist every 6 months.
Treat chronic health issues. A condition such as HIV or diabetes can disturb the balance of bacteria in your body and lead to thrush. If you’re taking medications for an ongoing health condition, take them regularly, as directed.
Don't overuse mouthwashes or sprays. Rinse with an antibacterial mouthwash once or twice a day to help keep your teeth and gums healthy. Using any more than that may upset the normal balance of bacteria in your mouth.
Limit foods that contain sugar and yeast. Bread, beer, and wine will cause extra yeast growth.
If you smoke, quit. Ask your doctor or dentist about ways to help you kick the habit.