What’s the white stuff in your child’s mouth?
One day after bathing your son, you’re getting ready to feed him and notice that there are white patches on his tongue. You call his doctor, who tells you to bring your son in to be seen. After examining him, the doctor says that your son has thrush. What is this? Why did it occur? How is it treated?
Thrush is also known as oral thrush or oral candidiasis. It’s a condition that arises when the fungus Candida albicans, which normally occurs in the mouth, accumulates in abundance. Typically, a person’s immune system protects them from organisms like viruses, bacteria, and fungi. However, it doesn’t always work the way it’s supposed, meaning the number of candida fungus increases resulting in an infection. Since infants and older adults have reduced immunity, they’re more likely to experience thrush. It can also appear in individuals with weakened immune systems (ex. those who have cancer or HIV/AIDS, history of organ transplant, or are taking medications to suppress the immune system). Diabetes is another risk factor because if you have large amounts of sugar in your saliva, it encourages candida growth. Taking medications, such as oral steroids, inhaled steroids, or antibiotics, alter the natural balance of microorganisms in your mouth, elevating your chances of developing the condition. In addition, wearing dentures or having a condition that causes dry mouth raises the likelihood of having thrush.
The main symptom of thrush is creamy white lesions on your tongue, inner cheeks, and sometimes on the roof of your mouth, gums, and tonsils. The lesions can be slightly raised with a cottage cheese-like appearance. Sometimes, the redness, burning, or soreness may be severe enough to cause difficulty eating or swallowing. If the lesions are rubbed or scraped, they can bleed. Individuals can have cracking and redness at the corners of their mouth and often complain of a cottony feeling in the mouth and loss of taste. Those with dentures can have redness, irritation, and pain under them (denture stomatitis).
For infants, they may have trouble feeding and be fussy/irritable. Infants can pass the infection to their mother’s breasts during feeding, and it can be passed back and forth between the mother and baby this way. Symptoms of this include unusually red/sensitive/cracked/itchy nipples, shiny/flaky skin on the darker, circular area around the nipple (areola), unusual pain during nursing, painful nipples between feedings, and stabbing pains deep within the breast.
In older children, teenagers, and adults who are healthy, thrush is uncommon. So, if they develop the condition, they should be examined by a doctor for an underlying illness that precipitated it. For individuals with weakened immune systems, untreated thrush can result in serious systemic candida infections. Therefore, seeking treatment as soon as the disease is noticed is vital.
The goal of treating thrush is to stop the fungus’ rapid spread, which involves antifungal medications. These medications come as lozenges, tablets, or liquids that you swish in your mouth before swallowing. If these don’t work, intravenous (IV) medications can be given. The usual treatment course for infants and their mothers is a mild antifungal medication for the baby and antifungal cream for the mother to put on her breasts. It’s important to note that if the underlying cause isn’t treated, such as poor-fitting dentures, thrush will return.
There are several things that you can do to prevent getting thrush. It’s essential to brush your teeth at least twice daily and floss at least once daily. Be sure to visit your dentist regularly. If you have a dry mouth, ask your doctor what you can do to correct it. Limit the amount of sugar-containing foods that you eat since they promote the growth of candida. If you have diabetes, maintain good control of your blood sugar. If you wear dentures, make sure they fit correctly, remove them at night, and clean them daily. Rinse your mouth with water or brush your teeth after using a corticosteroid inhaler. Since the same fungus causes vaginal yeast infections, treat them promptly to avoid it spreading throughout your body. For breastfeeding mothers, use nursing pads to prevent the fungus from spreading to your clothes (note: they shouldn’t have a plastic barrier), wear a clean bra every day, and ask your doctor the best way to clean breast nipples, bottle nipples, pacifiers, and any detachable parts of a breast pump.
Thrush is an uncomfortable disease to have to deal with, but with the proper treatment, it will go away. If you have any questions or concerns about thrush, please speak with your doctor. If you would like more information, please visit MedlinePlus’ thrush page at https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000626.htm