What is oral thrush?

Oral Thrush


Thrush is a yeast infection that causes white patches in the mouth and on the tongue. The patches look like cottage cheese. In a baby, thrush may also cause diaper rash.

Your doctor can prescribe medicine that will clear it up.

What are the symptoms of thrush in an adult?

Thrush can be a mild infection that causes no symptoms. If an adult has symptoms, they may include:

A burning feeling in the mouth and throat.

This occurs at the start of a thrush infection.

White patches that stick to the mouth and tongue.

The patches look like cottage cheese or milk curds. The tissue around the patches may be red, raw, and painful. If rubbed (during tooth brushing, for example), the patches and the tissue of the mouth may bleed easily.

A bad taste in the mouth or trouble tasting foods.

Some adults say they feel like they have cotton in their mouth.

If you breastfeed, you may get a yeast infection of your nipples if your baby has thrush. This can cause sore, red nipples. You may also have a severe burning pain in your nipples during and after breastfeeding.

How is thrush in an adult treated?

Thrush is usually treated with antifungal medicines. These are either applied directly to the affected area (topical) or swallowed (oral).

Mild thrush

You will probably use antifungal medicine that goes directly on the white patches, such as a mouth rinse or a lozenge. Treatment usually lasts about 14 days.

Moderate to severe thrush

Thrush that spreads to the esophagus can cause a more severe infection. This is treated with antifungal pills. A topical antifungal medicine may also be used.

For some severe infections, treatment may last longer than 14 days.

Persistent or recurrent thrush

Persistent or recurrent cases of thrush may:

  • Need to be treated twice as long as the symptoms last.
  • Require treatment with both oral and topical medicines.

People with weakened immune systems may need to keep taking antifungal medicine to prevent thrush.

Preventing thrush

Here are some tips for preventing thrush.

  • Practice good oral hygiene.

    This includes brushing your teeth twice a day and flossing once a day.

    • If you have had a previous thrush infection, replace your toothbrush to help prevent another infection.
  • Take care of your dentures if you wear them.

    Soak them each night in a chlorhexidine solution. You can get it from your pharmacist. You can also use a denture cleaner that is sold in most drug or grocery stores. Scrub your dentures with water both before and after soaking them. If you used chlorhexidine to soak your dentures, don't use fluoride toothpaste for at least 30 minutes after you put your dentures back in your mouth. (Fluoride can weaken the effect of chlorhexidine.)

  • Practice good hand-washing.
  • Rinse your mouth with water soon after you take a liquid antibiotic.

    Antibiotics can throw off the balance of bacteria in the mouth and can allow the growth of the yeast that causes thrush.

  • Get treatment for conditions that increase your risk for thrush.

    These include diabetes, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), or cancer.

  • Use a spacer when taking inhaled corticosteroids.

    Rinse your mouth after you inhale the dose.

How can you care for yourself when you have thrush?

Drink cold liquids and eat foods that are easy to swallow. If the thrush patches are painful, try drinking through a straw. Rinse your mouth several times a day with a warm saltwater rinse. You can make the rinse with 1 tsp salt in 8 fl oz (236.6 mL) of warm water.

Thrush in the mouth

Thrush in mouth, with close-up of thrush on tongue and roof of mouth.

Thrush is a common infection of the mouth and tongue caused by the yeast Candida albicans. Thrush appears as white patches that look like cottage cheese or milk curds. When the patches are wiped away, the surface looks red and raw and may bleed.

What causes thrush?

You get thrush when a yeast called Candida grows out of control. Candida is normally found in small amounts in the mouth and other mucous membranes. It usually causes no harm. But when the yeast is able to grow uncontrolled, it invades surrounding tissues and becomes an infection.

  • Babies get thrush because their immune systems aren't yet strong enough to control the growth of the yeast.
  • Older people get thrush because their immune systems can weaken with age.
  • Some people get thrush when they take certain medicines, such as antibiotics or inhaled corticosteroids.
  • People who have certain health problems, such as diabetes or HIV, are also more likely to get thrush.

How to care for your dentures when you have thrush

If you get thrush and have false teeth (dentures), it is important to clean your mouth and dentures every night.

  1. Remove your dentures before you go to bed.
  2. Scrub them well with a clean toothbrush and water.
  3. Soak them overnight in chlorhexidine or denture cleaner.

    You can get chlorhexidine from a pharmacist. You can get denture cleaner from most drugstores or grocery stores.

  4. Rinse your dentures well in the morning.

    If you used chlorhexidine to soak your dentures, don't use fluoride toothpaste for at least 30 minutes after you put your dentures back in your mouth. (Fluoride can weaken the effect of chlorhexidine.)

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