Have you noticed a strange white rash inside your mouth or on your tongue? If yes, this is called oral candidiasis. It is also called oral thrush. It is a common infection caused by the candida fungus, which is basically yeast. You can see these rashes in your mouth and other parts of the body. These can cause diaper rash in infants or vaginal yeast infections in women.

Anyone can get candidiasis, but it is commonly visible in infants and toddlers, older adults, and specific people who have weakened immune systems. As it is a yeast infection of the genus candida, it generally tends to develop and thrives on the mucous membranes of the mouth.

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For the majority of people, oral candidiasis generally does not cause any serious health problems. However, the story is very different for individuals with a weakened immune system. For such people, the signs and symptoms may be quite severe.

This article discusses all aspects of oral candidiasis, including the causes, symptoms, and treatment.

What is Oral Candidiasis?

A yeast germ known as candida causes the infection called oral candidiasis. The human mouth is the most common site where Candida causes infection. When candida infection occurs in your mouth, it is called oral candidiasis. Other common locations where candidiasis can develop are the nail folds, nappy area,  and vagina.

According to statistics, the treatment for oral candidiasis usually provides very good results. Individuals often respond well to the treatment. However, oral candidiasis can reappear, especially if the causal factor like smoking is not eliminated. Hence you need to quit smoking to prevent the infection from coming back.

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When you start to see a strange white rash-like growth inside the inner lining of your mouth, you may be having this condition called oral candidiasis. You must immediately visit your doctor or dentist for an examination. It is an infection caused by the candida fungus. Do not worry, as you might see these rashes in your mouth and other parts of your body as well. 

Oral candidiasis is more likely to happen in babies and older adults, basically because this group of people has reduced immunity at this age. Candidiasis is also visible in individuals with suppressed immune systems or having certain health conditions. It is also common in people who take certain medications. 

Candidiasis is a minor problem if you are healthy. But in a scenario when you have a weakened immune system, your symptoms might be more severe and even more challenging to control.

Quick Facts on Oral Candidiasis

These are some key features you should know about oral candidiasis. 

  • Oral candidiasis is a commonly occurring condition, but for many, it does not cause significant problems.
  • The fungus candida usually survives on your mucous membranes, but if too much grows in one area, it can cause symptoms.
  • Individuals having a reduced immune system are the worst affected.
  • Oral candidiasis is generally noticed mostly after chemotherapy or radiotherapy sessions on your neck and head.
  • The condition could be more pronounced in individuals who take steroids, wear dental dentures, or have diabetes.
  • The most common symptom of candidiasis is the formation of creamy or white-colored deposits in your tongue and mouth.
  • Your dentist might prescribe oral treatments or local antifungal medication that might be helpful to treat candidiasis.
  • If you practice good oral hygiene, you can help prevent it from recurring.

Oral Candidiasis Symptoms

Children and adults

The candidiasis symptoms are so minor that initially, you might not be able to notice them. Symptoms might include:

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  • You can see creamy, white lesions on your tongue, the roof of your mouth, inside the cheeks, gums, and tonsils. They may appear even on the backside of your throat.
  • Some people might have slightly raised lesions, which are mostly like a cottage cheese-like appearance.
  • Burning, inflammation, redness, or soreness symptoms might be severe enough to cause difficulty swallowing or eating. 
  • If you rub or scrape these lesions slight bleeding might happen. 
  • Redness and cracks occur at the corners of your mouth.
  • You might also have a cottony feeling in your mouth.
  • Loss of taste.
  • Denture stomatitis can be seen – redness, irritation, and pain under the dentures.

In most severe cases, the condition is usually seen in people with cancer or a weakened immune system from HIV/AIDS. In such a serious condition, the lesions generally spread downward into the esophagus. Do you know that your esophagus is the long, muscular tube that stretches from the back of your mouth to your stomach?

If oral candidiasis occurs, you might start to experience difficulty in swallowing your food. You may also experience pain or might feel as if the food is stuck in your throat. In very severe conditions, you should seek medical help.

Infants and breastfeeding mothers

Apart from the distinctive white mouth lesions that are common, infants also have trouble feeding and become fussy and irritated. There are chances that the kids can even pass the infection to their mothers while they breastfeed. 

Women whose breasts get infected with the fungus candida might experience the symptoms such as:

  • Unusually sensitive, red, cracked, or itchy nipples.
  • Flaky or shiny skin on the circular, darker area around the nipple or also referred to as areola.
  • Might experience pain during nursing. Also, you may notice painful nipples, especially between feedings.
  • Stabbing or throbbing stabbing pain deep within the breast.

When to Visit a Doctor

If you or your kid develop white lesions or creamy layers inside your mouth, consult your dentist or doctor. Oral candidiasis rarely happens in healthy older children, teenagers, and adults. 

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So if you notice any signs of candidiasis developing, discuss with your doctor to check if further evaluation is needed. Your doctor will actually check for an underlying medical condition or any other causes.

What Causes Oral Thrush?

Candida fungus is present in everyone’s mouth in small amounts. They are also present in your digestive tract and in your skin. It is supposed to be present there, but the fungus is generally kept under control by the other bacteria present in your body. 

But at times, certain illnesses or medications like antibiotics or corticosteroids can disturb the balance. As a result, the fungus may grow out of control. That is when oral candidiasis is visible. 

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Stress can also cause oral candidiasis. Other several medical conditions causing oral candidiasis can be cancer, uncontrolled diabetes, and HIV infection.

If you are a frequent smoker or wear dentures that do not fit properly – you will get oral candidiasis. Newborn babies might pass the infection to their mothers when they are breastfeeding.

What is the Treatment for Oral Candidiasis?

Treatment of candidiasis depends on the cause and severity of your infection. If your doctor identifies some reversible condition that caused your oral candidiasis, then those factors will be corrected as part of your treatment. 

The factors causing the disease could be poorly controlled diabetes, taking antibiotics, ill-fitting dentures, or smoking. 

Infants and children often do not require treatment. In children who have oral candidiasis that persisted for more than weeks, your doctor might prescribe antifungal nystatin drops.

Locally applied treatment

For mild oral candidiasis symptoms, the treatment that your doctor will try first is miconazole mouth gel. The effect of the medicine on the disease is checked for a week. 

At times your doctor might give a two-week course. If your doctor cannot use miconazole gel, he might try another option as Nystatin drops. It is given to people known to be allergic to it. 

Follow the instructions on the packet:

  • You should use the gel or drops after your meals. 
  • You can use a dropper to place the liquid drops inside your mouth on the area that is affected. 
  • Smear a tiny amount of gel on the affected areas using clean fingers. Apply it three to four times a day.
  • Ideally, you should avoid eating or drinking for about 30 minutes after using the drops or the gel. This will prevent the medicine from being washed out.

Anti-thrush tablets

Tablets for oral candidiasis contain fluconazole, a medicine that would help to clear fungal and thrush infections. Your dentist will prescribe tablets only when your condition is critical. 

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For example, individuals with a poor immune system develop extensive oral candidiasis. Your dentist will prescribe tablets for a week, and this will usually clear your oral candidiasis.

Adjustment of other medication

If you were taking other medicines that might have given rise to signs and symptoms of oral candidiasis like antibiotics or steroids, your doctor might need to change the medication. Else your doctor might change or reduce the dose to help clear up your oral candidiasis.

Risk Factors for Oral Candidiasis

Adult oral candidiasis could be a problem for the following group:

  • Adults who wear dentures – especially if their dentures do not fit properly, are not cleaned regularly, or are not taken out before going to bed, it could lead to problems.
  • Antibiotics – if you are on antibiotics, you may have a higher risk of developing oral candidiasis. However, antibiotics could help destroy the bacteria that prevent the candida from coming out of control.
  • Steroid medication – Individuals dependent on long-term use of steroid medication may have an increased risk of oral thrush.
  • Weakened immune system – Individuals with weakened immune systems are more likely to develop oral thrush.
  • Excessive mouthwash use – If you overuse antibacterial mouthwashes, you often destroy the bacteria which keep candida at bay. As a result, such people have an increased risk of developing oral candidiasis.
  • Diabetes – Individuals with diabetes symptoms, especially if it is poorly controlled, might develop oral candidiasis.
  • Dry mouth – if your mouth is dry, meaning it has less than a normal quantity of saliva or xerostomia, you are more prone to oral candidiasis.
  • Diet – Diet malnutrition often makes you prone to oral candidiasis. Intake of a poor diet or a disease might affect the absorption of nutrients by your body leading to malnutrition. In particular, if you are on diets low in vitamin B12, folic acid, and iron, you automatically have a higher chance of infection. 
  • Smoking – Scientists believe that heavy smokers are more at risk though the reason behind this is still unclear.

Lifestyle and Home Remedies

These measures might help reduce your risk of developing oral candidiasis:

  • Practice good oral hygiene. Practice brushing your teeth twice a day and use dental floss daily or as advised by your dentist. Also, try to replace your toothbrush frequently, at least during the time your fungal infections clear up. Also, avoid sharing toothbrushes.
  • Disinfect your dentures. You should always take out your dentures at night. Clean your dentures a few times a day. Make sure your dentures fit correctly and do not cause irritation. Ask your dentist for the best steps to clean your dentures.
  • Rinse your mouth. Mix about a half teaspoon of salt in one cup of warm water and use the salt water as a mouthwash. Swish the salt water rinse, and then throw it out.
  • Visit your dentist regularly. Especially if you are wearing dentures or you have diabetes. 
  • Maintain good blood sugar control if you have diabetes. Even if you have diabetes, having well-controlled blood sugar levels could reduce the amount of sugar in your saliva. This would naturally discourage the growth of candida.
  • Keep a watch on what you eat. Try limiting or avoiding your amount of sugar-containing food. These generally encourage the growth of the fungus candida.

With treatment, your oral candidiasis usually goes away after a couple of weeks. If you are prone to it, you may need to visit your specialist doctor for medical advice. Sometimes the oral candidiasis goes away completely and returns back. 

This often happens in people when the underlying cause has not gone away completely. Whatever be the reasons, your doctor might be able to prescribe the best medication and treatment plan.