Oral thrush can be an irritating and painful condition, but it’s rarely serious. Oral thrush is a fungal infection of the mouth, and belongs to a group of infections caused by the Candida fungus. Many people have heard of its cousin, genital thrush, but oral thrush is something experienced by fewer people. Symptoms include white patches on the mouth and tongue that might bleed when they’re disturbed, sore cracks at the sides of the mouth, a bad taste in the mouth, and difficulty eating and drinking. The fungal infection usually comes about from a change in the immune system that helps to create an ideal breeding ground for fungus, so whilst it’s not a completely preventable condition, looking after your oral health and making sure to go for regular dental check-ups can reduce your risk.
“Oral thrush is a harmless but irritating condition that can affect people of all ages. It’s caused by the same fungus that causes genital thrush and intestinal candidiasis. Luckily, it can be treated with antifungal gels, mouthwashes, or lozenges, and treatment should continue for 7 days after your symptoms have disappeared to prevent it from coming back.”
What is Oral Thrush?
Oral thrush is a non-contagious fungal infection of the mouth caused by the Candida fungus. It’s most common in babies and in older people that wear dentures. There are several different types of thrush caused by the same fungi which all need antifungal treatment, for example, genital thrush, oral thrush and intestinal candidiasis.
It isn’t a serious condition, but it can be uncomfortable and painful. If left untreated, oral thrush can spread further into your body which can be serious, so it’s always a good idea to nip it in the bud as soon as you notice any signs.
What are the symptoms of oral thrush?
Symptoms may vary from person to person, and can be difficult to spot in babies and young children as they can’t tell us what they’re feeling, but generally, whether you or your child are suffering with oral thrush, you might notice the following signs:
- White patches in the mouth that leave red, bleeding spots
- Cracking at the sides of the mouth
- Impaired sense of taste
- Unpleasant taste in mouth
- Sore tongue or gums
- Difficulty eating and drinking
You may also notice a white coating on the tongue due to the spread of the fungi, and in babies, it’s common for them to develop nappy rash alongside oral thrush.
It should be noted that oral thrush can also be asymptomatic, meaning you might not necessarily know you’ve got the infection until it’s developed into a later stage.
What causes oral thrush?
There’s no hard and fast rule as to what causes the infection, but there are some risk factors such as taking antibiotics for a long time, using asthma inhalers, and undergoing cancer treatments such as chemotherapy. There are also groups of people that are more at risk of developing oral thrush. You might fall into this category if you have:
- Iron deficiency
- Vitamin B12 deficiency
- Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid)
The candida fungus can often live harmlessly in your mouth, but sometimes, your immune system can change and allow the fungus to grow beyond a normal level.
Oral thrush treatment:
Fungal infections need antifungal medication rather than antibiotics. You can buy oral thrush gel either in a pharmacy or online at Doctor4U. The gel usually comes in orange flavour, and can be used by babies aged 4 months or older, all the way through to adults and the elderly. The gel should be used after food, and be held in the mouth for as long as possible before swallowing.
The gel’s active ingredient is miconazole, an antifungal medication that kills fungi and also has antibacterial properties. Daktarin, one of the brands that manufacture the gel, state that once symptoms have cleared, you should continue using it for 7 days to make sure that the infection won’t come back.
Other treatments, such as antifungal mouthwashes and lozenges are also available, and just as effective at treating the infection.
Can you prevent oral thrush?
To a degree, yes. Whilst you can’t do much about your immune system, you can make sure that you attend regular dental check-ups and follow a good oral hygiene routine. Brushing your teeth twice a day, flossing, using interdental brushes and rinsing with mouthwash are all good ways to make sure your mouth stays healthy. However, make sure you don’t overuse mouthwashes as this can upset the natural balance of bacteria in your mouth and actually have the opposite effect. Once or twice a day is ideal, but try to avoid using it any more than this.
If you wear dentures, make sure that they fit properly, as ill-fitting dentures can encourage infection. Also, only wear them during the day, making sure to take them out at night.