Thrush Symptoms, Causes, And Possible Treatment


Thrush, also called oral candidiasis, is a condition that occurs due to the buildup of a fungus (Candida albicans) in the oral mucous membranes. Anyone can suffer from thrush, but babies, young children, the elderly, and people with weakened immune systems are the most susceptible. The fungus is usually harmless but can cause an infection with reduced resistance or a disturbed balance of the micro-organisms in the mouth.

The condition is common in newborns (in about 4% of infants, usually in children under six weeks of age). Contamination occurs, for example, during breastfeeding when the infant gets in contact with the nipples on which the fungus is often found. Breast milk is an ideal breeding ground for Candida because it contains a lot of milk sugars.

Thrush symptoms

Oral thrush or oral candidiasis may go unnoticed in some people. Classically, the symptoms of oral thrush are:

  • Creamy white lesions on the tongue and inside of the cheeks
  • Whitish deposits at the corner of the lips which can cause cracks, requiring medical consultation;
  • Whitish deposits in the mouth, causing stinging and burning;
  • A black tongue can have its origin in a fungal infection but also in the taking of certain drugs, smoking, etc. This condition is characterized by a greenish brown appearance of the tongue;
  • Pain and inflammation in the oral cavity; 
  • Discomfort that can lead to loss of appetite;
  • Glossitis, which is the inflammation of the tongue that is red and painful. 

In breastfed infants with oral thrush, a risk of mother-to-child contamination is possible with breast and nipple damage. Treatment of the mother and child is then necessary to allow breastfeeding to continue.

The symptoms of oral thrush are not without consequences in daily life, with difficulty swallowing, changes in taste, burning sensations, or pain in the mouth. Infants tend to cry, especially at mealtimes. 

Identifying the symptoms of oral candidiasis in the early stages allows appropriate treatment and reduces the consequences and risks of complications. Most often, the examination of the mouth is sufficient for the doctor to diagnose candidiasis, without necessarily resorting to microbiological analyzes. With treatment, the duration of oral thrush is 1 to 3 weeks.

Causes and consequences of oral thrush

At the origin of these infections, we find mainly fungi of the Candida type. Regularly present in the mouth, they live in perfect balance with the protective bacteria naturally present in the mouth. But sometimes that balance is upset and the fungi take the lead. This can be the result of a situation favorable to fungi and/or unfavorable to the protective bacteria. Thereby:

  • Insufficient oral hygiene and the wearing of braces can promote the occurrence of lesions and irritation of the mouth which promotes the development of fungi:
  • Patients undergoing immunosuppressive therapy , antibiotics and diabetes are also more likely to be affected.

If left untreated, the infection can spread and interfere with eating, leading to weight loss. In rare cases, thrush can spread to other organs and reach the esophagus or larynx. This phenomenon severely handicaps swallowing, causing severe pain and nausea.

Treatment and prevention

In infants with no particular health problem, antifungal treatment is not always necessary. In children, fragile infants, and adults, several treatments are possible:

  • Baking soda-based mouthwashes (to increase oral pH);
  • A local antifungal treatment lasting several days to a few weeks;
  • Oral antifungal treatment for the most severe forms, especially when candidiasis affects other areas of the body.

Throughout the treatment and even then to prevent a recurrence, good oral hygiene is recommended, as well as stopping smoking. It is also advisable to reduce your consumption of foods rich in sugars or acids. In all cases, detecting and treating oral candidiasis is essential to prevent the development and spread of this fungal infection, which in the most fragile can become serious.

There also are some things you can do to reduce the risk of thrush:

  • Take care of your teeth: brush twice a day, clean your dentures and go for regular check-ups, even if you have dentures
  • Sterilize pacifiers regularly
  • Sterilize baby bottles after each use
  • Rinse your mouth after eating or taking medication
  • Check up regularly if you have a chronic condition, such as diabetes
Erica Delaney

An experienced nurse, Erica focuses on subjects related to pregnancy and infant health. She enjoys dancing and playing the piano in her free time.