All you need to know about oral thrush, a fungal infection of the mouth

Oral thrush is a fungal infection which can lead to white lesions on your tongue. If left untreated, this can even lead to septic shock
White marks on a tongue
Oral thrush is a fungal infection that happens due to the Candida fungus. Image courtesy: Adobe Stock
Anjuri Nayar Singh Published: 23 Jun 2024, 08:30 pm IST
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If you notice creamy white marks on your baby’s tongue or on an elderly person’s tongue at home, that is what oral thrush looks like. Also called oral candidiasis, it is a fungal infection that can lead to a yeast infection on your tongue, the roof of your mouth, inner cheeks, gums and tonsils as well. While this can happen at any age, it is very common in infants, and they can end up passing it to nursing mothers as well. There are a couple of home remedies that can help with the condition. There are also oral antifungal medicines that can make you feel better. Read on to learn more about the condition, and how to rectify it.

What is oral thrush?

Oral thrush is a fungal infection that happens due to the Candida fungus. Some amount of this fungus is already there in our mouths, digestive tracts and skin as well. When there is an imbalance, this fungus goes out of control, and that leads to oral thrush.

What does oral thrush look like

If you have oral thrush, your mouth will turn red, with white patches. If you try to wipe off the patches, you will be left with red dots, states the NHS. Besides this, the other symptoms of oral thrush include cracks at the corners of your mouth and an unpleasant taste that stays. It can also lead to pain and give you a sore tongue or gums. Besides this, it won’t be so easy to eat and drink, and even tasting things would be an issue.

In babies, it would seem like they have a layer of cottage cheese on their tongues. It’s very difficult to remove it. You might also notice white spots. The infant would generally refuse to drink milk, and if they do, they can easily pass the infection to the nursing mom. They might be irritable or fussy as well.

Causes of oral thrush

According to the National Institutes of Health, 65 per cent of infants in the US are infected with albicans (C. albicans). Fungus, while 30-60 per cent of adults are also diagnosed with this condition. Some of the causes that can lead to this condition are malnutrition, extreme ages such as very young or very old, metabolic diseases, weak immune system, long-term use of antibiotics, and long-term steroid treatment as well.

Babies may get this condition due to the presence of yeast in the environment, or may even catch it from the birthing parent at the time of delivery, during the pregnancy, or through nursing.

Risk factors for oral thrush

Some risk factors can cause oral thrush to flourish. A weak immune system is at the topmost of this list. A weak immune system allows an imbalance of microorganisms in your body, and this can lead to an overgrowth of the fungus. Other risk factors include:

1. HIV

A study, conducted in the Journal of Pharmacy & BioAllied Sciences, presents a case of a male patient, 39, who suffered from oral thrush, and that helped the doctors determine that he had HIV. He had a mild burning sensation in his mouth for over a year and had no dental history. There are white lesions on his tongue and palate, and it was seen that he suffered from erythematous candidiasis, a form of oral thrush. An HIV-induced erythematous candidiasis was finally diagnosed.

2. Chemotherapy or other cancer treatments

Oral thrush is one of the most common side effects of cancer treatments. The immune system often gets damaged with these treatments, and the body finds it difficult to fight off the infection. It all depends on the type of cancer and how intensive the treatment is, states a study, published by National Institutes of Health.

3. Diabetes

High sugar levels in the body make it conducive for the yeast to grow. According to this study, published in Current Medical Mycology, 55 per cent of diabetic participants were seen to carry candida in their oral cavity. Besides this, a dry mouth and high levels of glucose in the saliva can lead to thrush.

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A girl with a white patch on her inner lip
Oral thush can have red and white patches as well. Image courtesy: Adobe Stock

Complications of oral thrush

In most cases oral thrush is harmless, and simple medication can resolve it. However, it can also lead to serious complications. If you don’t get it treated on time, it can enter your bloodstream. Invasive or systemic candidiasis is when the infection spreads to your heart, eyes, brain or other parts of the body. Meanwhile, it can also cause septic shock, states the NIH.

How to treat oral thrush?

The NHS states that various mouth gels can help with the treatment of oral thrush. These mouth gels are available at the pharmacy and can be procured easily. Make sure to follow the instructions on the packaging. Once the medication begins, it can take up few weeks for the thrush to go away. However, oral thrush can be recurring. In this case, your doctor will check you for other underlying health conditions that are leading to the thrush, and treat those.

In the case of infants, anti-fungal medicines can be prescribed by the doctor. Meanwhile, nursing parents must also apply antifungal creams to their breasts. However, wipe off the cream before nursing. Also, make sure your breasts are dry at all times. All pacifiers and teethers of the baby must be cleaned well.

Home remedies to treat oral thrush

There are some home remedies also that can give you relief.

1. Saltwater

Rinsing your mouth with salt water can be effective. According to the Journal of the Indian Society of Periodontics and Preventive Dentistry, salt water can help control microbes in the mouth. Take half a teaspoon of salt and mix it with one cup of warm water. Rinse your mouth with this solution.

2. Baking soda

You can rinse your mouth with a solution of water and baking soda as well. According to this study, published in the European Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences, baking soda has sodium bicarbonate, which can help to treat yeast infections. Half a teaspoon of baking soda in warm water should do the trick!

3. Yoghurt

Curd or yogurt contains probiotics and this helps the good bacteria cultivate in your mouth. A study, published in Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology, reveals that probiotics can help stop the growth of Candida. So help yourself to a bowl of yogurt a few times a day. Try to go for unflavoured, natural yoghurt.

4. Turmeric milk

Mixing about half a teaspoon of turmeric with milk can be effective as well. You can add black pepper to this drink as well. Heat the milk and make sure to swish it in your mouth before you drink it. Turmeric is anti-inflammatory and helps with the infection.

5. Apple cider vinegar

Apple cider vinegar can also help with oral thrush. Apple cider vinegar has anti-fungal properties that can help resolve the infection, states this study, published in the Journal of Prosthodontics. This is great for people who have oral thrush due to ill-fitting dentures. Add one teaspoon of apple cider vinegar to one cup of water. Swish it in your mouth, before spitting it out.

Tongue with a big white patch
A low immune system can lead to oral thrush. Image courtesy: Adobe Stock

How to prevent oral thrush?

There are a few ways that can help you prevent oral thrush, states this research paper in the Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care. Taking care of your teeth and gums can help prevent this condition.

  • Use a soft toothbrush so that it is gentle on your gums
  • Make sure to clear the spaces between your teeth well
  • Use an antiseptic mouthwash
  • Visit the dentist to help with other gum diseases
  • Make sure your dentures are clean and fit you well.

Besides this, make sure to eat a healthy diet, get your diabetes under control, and not share cups and other utensils with anyone.


Is oral thrush contagious?

Yes, there are a few ways that oral thrush can be spread. Infants might spread it to their mothers while breastfeeding. In adults, kissing or oral sex can spread it.

Can oral thrush cause bleeding?

Yes, it can. Oral thrush also leads to certain red marks in your mouth and these may bleed as well. It is better to show yourself to the doctor to get the necessary medications.

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About the Author

Anjuri Nayar Singh has over 12 years of experience in writing for various topics including lifestyle, films, television and OTT. She also writes on art and culture, education and human interest stories. ...Read More

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