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Oral Thrush (Oral Candidiasis)

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Oral thrush – or oral pseudomembranous candidiasis – is a fungal infection of the mouth common among denture wearers, infants and people with weakened immune systems. The most common human fungal infection, thrush presents as slightly raised removable plaques (resembling cottage cheese) on the tongue or inner cheek. It can also affect the roof of the mouth, gums, tonsils or back of the throat.

There are three other forms of oral candidiasis infections:

  • Erythematous candidiasis appears as red patches on the roof of the mouth and tongue.
  • Hyperplastic (chronic) candidiasis resembles the more common type, but cannot be scraped off.
  • Angular cheilitis looks like red sores that develop in the corners of the mouth.


Oral thrush is caused primarily when there is an overgrowth of Candida albicans, a yeast normally present in the mouth in small quantities and kept in balance by helpful bacteria in the body. Less frequently, ith may also be caused by an overgrowth/infection of the Candida glabrata or Candida tropicalis yeasts, which also are present in the mouth.

Dry mouth, high blood and salivary sugar levels (diabetes), and prolonged use of certain antibiotics or corticosteroid therapy (asthma inhalers) can upset the body’s natural balance of friendly bacteria that would otherwise fight off a yeast infection. This allows overgrowth of Candida and leads to thrush.

Considerations and Risk Factors

Newborns/Nursing Mothers: Babies and nursing mothers must both be properly treated to prevent passing the Candidal infection back and forth. Dentists or healthcare providers can prescribe mild antifungal medications to treat oral infections, and an antifungal cream may be needed for treating the breasts.

Diabetics: Individuals with diabetes have a reduced resistance to infection, so they may experience an increased incidence of oral thrush. To prevent oral infections, dentists may recommend medicated mouth rinses or more frequent dental hygiene appointments.

People with Asthma/Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD): The use of inhaled corticosteroids has been shown to increase an individual’s risk for oral thrush. This risk can be reduced by using a spacer and rinsing the mouth after using the inhaler.

Denture Wearers: A common contributor to oral thrush is denture stomatisis, which occurs when the gums and soft tissue of the mouth are irritated and inflamed from wearing a denture that doesn’t fit well or hasn’t been properly cleaned on a regular basis. This condition creates an environment that is ideal for Candida growth.

Smokers: The use of tobacco has been identified as a contributing factor in oral thrush infection.

Immune deficiencies (HIV, Chemotherapy/Cancer Patients): Deficiencies in the immune system that result from chemotherapy, radiation treatments or HIV infection can dramatically change the balance of the protective mechanisms in the body that would otherwise fight off an oral thrush infection. An individual’s ability to fight infection determines the severity of oral thrush and the fungal infection overall. Individuals with HIV are prone to severe forms of thrush in their mouth or esophagus, as well as spread of the infection to the intestines. Prolonged antifungal treatment may be necessary for individuals with severe infections and/or those who are immunocompromised.

Treatment moving forward

Your dentist will develop a treatment plan for you based on your specific condition and the nature of your oral thrush infection. For more information, please contact our office as soon as possible.

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