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What is Oral Thrush & What Causes It?

Published date field Last Updated:

Medically Reviewed By Colgate Global Scientific Communications

If you ever notice white, cottage cheese-like patches in your mouth, it could be a common fungal infection known as oral thrush. Although oral thrush can affect anyone, it's more likely to occur in babies and older adults because they have weaker immune systems. Though this condition is generally painless, there are still simple steps you can take to prevent it.

What is Oral Thrush?

Someone with an oral thrush yeast infection may notice white or yellow patches in their mouth. An overgrowth of the oral candidiasis fungus causes creamy lesions to appear. Also referred to as candidiasis, this fungus can be commonly found throughout the mouth, gastrointestinal tract, and skin. A healthy mouth and immune system are usually enough to keep it in check, but an imbalance in the mouth's microorganisms can allow candidiasis to rapidly multiply, leading to the main symptoms of oral thrush.

Oral Thrush Symptoms

Symptoms of oral thrush are generally mild and do not cause significant issues. People with oral thrush may experience:

  • White coating or white patches on the tongue, inner cheeks, gums, tonsils, and roof of the mouth
  • Soreness in the mouth
  • Slight bleeding if patches are irritated
  • Cottonmouth
  • Some loss of taste
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Babies may become fussy when feeding

Your immune system does a fantastic job of repelling harmful bacteria, fungi, and other microorganisms. If symptoms of oral thrush appear, a dental or medical professional can address an underlying medical condition.

Oral Thrush Causes

The yeast associated with oral thrush can be found all over your body and is generally harmless for healthy people. Factors that can lead to oral thrush symptoms include:

  • Weakened immune system
  • Diabetes
  • High levels of stress
  • Sexually Transmitted Infections
  • Antibiotics or corticosteroids
  • Smoking tobacco

Oral Thrush Treatment

Symptoms typically clear up after two weeks with antifungal medications like fluconazole (Diflucan) or lozenges made from clotrimazole (Mycelex Troche.)

Doctors may also prescribe Nystatin (Nystop, Nyota), an antifungal mouthwash for babies and adults. Without treatment, oral thrush symptoms can subside in up to eight weeks.

Home remedies, in addition to medical treatment, can assist in soothing the effects of oral thrush. Some simple methods you can try at home include:

  • Brushing your teeth with a soft-bristled brush to avoid scraping the white spots
  • Rinsing your mouth with warm salt water
  • Eating cheese or yogurt to restore the chemical balance in your mouth

How to Prevent Oral Thrush

Regular oral hygiene is essential to preventing oral thrush. Brushing your teeth, interdental cleaning, and rinsing with an antiseptic mouth rinse are simple yet effective preventive measures to keeping your mouth healthy. Be sure to clean dentures and night guards daily to avoid introducing harmful bacteria to your mouth.

Candida fungus thrives in warm, moist environments, so nursing mothers need to take necessary precautions to avoid the risk of allowing oral thrush to develop in their babies. Babies can have several cases of oral thrush in the first year of their life, so these tips can help minimize your child's exposure to oral thrush-causing yeast:

  • Wash your hands
  • Allow your nipples to dry well after breastfeeding
  • Clean anything that encounters the infected area
  • Try to avoid feeding from the bottle

Oral thrush is a common condition and tends to go away on its own. If you or your child experiences symptoms of oral thrush, schedule an appointment with a medical professional for treatment. They can also help identify any underlying medical conditions contributing to the signs.

Oral Care Center articles are reviewed by an oral health medical professional. This information is for educational purposes only. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist, physician or other qualified healthcare provider. 

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