If you look in the mirror to discover your mouth has blossomed in white spots and patches or if you notice little white spots in your child’s mouth while assisting them with their daily oral care routine, you may, understandably, be concerned. You may even be more than simply concerned, but there is no need to panic. It may be a simple type of infection called oral thrush. Oral thrush is very treatable in otherwise healthy people, but it helps to know the basics of what is happening in your mouth (or your child’s mouth) to both treat the infection and reduce the likelihood that it will come back.
What Is It?
Oral thrush is an infection caused by an overgrowth of Candida albicans, a type of fungus. It is also called oral candidiasis. This fungus is very common, and most people have some of it in their oral environment without having an infection. Candida is usually kept in check by the immune systems and healthy bacteria in the mouth. Sometimes, however, the balance gets disrupted and the fungus grows unchecked and starts causing problems.
How Does It Overgrow?
Healthy teens and adults rarely develop oral thrush. It’s much more common in infants and older adults–both groups tend to have less active immune systems. Dry mouth creates conditions that candida thrives in, so treating dry mouth is important to avoid infection. Also, corticosteroid inhalers have been strongly correlated to thrush infections in otherwise healthy individuals. Diabetes, particularly when blood sugar levels are not well controlled, increases the likelihood of yeast overgrowth. Of course, conditions that depress the immune system can let thrush develop.
What Are The Symptoms?
Thrush usually shows up as creamy white spots and patches on the inside of the cheeks and on the tongue. As it spreads, it can develop on the gums and the roof of the mouth as well. Unchecked, it can grow onto the tonsils and down the throat, causing serious problems. The spots are usually slightly raised bumps that may bleed if rubbed or scratched. The area around the patches is often red, and may itch or burn. You may also notice pain while swallowing or have a cottony feeling in your mouth. Sometimes, you may even notice a loss of taste. If you are having these symptoms for the first time, it’s probably a good idea to check in with your doctor or dentist to make sure there isn’t an underlying condition harming your overall health.
What Can I Do To Treat It At Home?
If you have a simple case of thrush that hasn’t grown down your throat and isn’t interfering with your ability to eat, home treatment alone may be appropriate. A warm saltwater rinse several times a day can help. Dissolve ½ teaspoon of salt in warm, not hot, water and rinse thoroughly several times a day. Do not swallow the rinse. An antimicrobial dental rinse may be used, with or without saltwater rinses.
High pH levels make it hard for the fungus to grow and survive, so baking soda rinses can help. In infants with early thrush (who cannot rinse and spit without swallowing), a solution of baking soda and water can be dabbed on the spots with a cotton swab to help clear up the infection. Be sure not to dip the swab in the solution multiple times–1 spot, 1 swab. A dental rinse that raises oral pH can help here too.
Practice good oral hygiene, both during and after thrush. Treat yourself to a new toothbrush to keep your toothbrush from hiding candida and reintroducing it into your mouth. Similarly, if you wear dentures, make sure you disinfect them completely to keep them from harboring the infection.
What If Home Treatment Isn’t Enough?
If the infection has spread or does not respond quickly to home treatment measures, your doctor or dentist can prescribe an antifungal medication for you. Sometimes they will prescribe an antifungal rinse or cream for the infection site. Sometimes, particularly if you have other medical complications, they may prescribe a systemic (whole body) medication you take orally. Be sure to use medications prescribed by your doctor exactly according to the directions so they can work properly.
How Can I Prevent It?
Good oral hygiene is the best and first defense against oral infections. Be sure to treat dry mouth if you suffer from it to prevent a host of dental woes, including oral thrush. If you need to use a corticosteroid inhaler, rinse your mouth with plain water after each use. Control blood sugar levels, and don’t consume too much sugar (candida love to feed on sugary foods). Correcting the conditions that let thrush develop in the first place is your best defense against future infections.