Tongue thrush, also known as oral thrush, is a fungus or yeast infection of the lining of your mouth. The fungus is known as candida and can also affect other parts of the body, in the form of diaper rash in babies and yeast infections in women. Babies, people who wear dentures and those with weakened immune systems are most susceptible to oral thrush.
Thrush is found in healthy individuals and is kept in check by other bacteria. When your immune system is weakened by certain medications, illness or stress, the balance of good and bad bacteria shifts and allows oral thrush to grow. Illnesses such as cancer and HIV/AIDS attack the immune system, allowing greater risk for infections that your body could normally fight off. Uncontrolled diabetes allows saliva to contain large amounts of sugar, which encourages the fungus to grow. Pregnant women who have vaginal yeast infections at childbirth are at risk of passing the fungus on to their newborn.
Symptoms of oral thrush include white lesions on your tongue, inner cheeks, gums and roof of your mouth. These lesions may form a cottage-cheese like appearance that is painful and bleeds when rubbed or scraped. Other symptoms may include loss of taste, cracked corners of your mouth and cottony feeling in your mouth. Severe symptoms include fever, difficulty swallowing and the feeling that food is stuck in your throat. Babies and mothers who are breast feeding may pass the infection back and forth. Symptoms may include sensitive red nipples, a stabbing pain in the breast and pain during nursing.
Your doctor or dentist can normally diagnose oral thrush by looking inside your mouth. Sometimes a scraping of a lesion may be taken to study under a microscope.
For infants your doctor may prescribe a mild anti-fungal medicine, and for breast feeding mothers your doctor may prescribe an anti-fungal cream. Healthy adults and children may be advised to eat unsweetened yogurt or to take an acidophilus pill. The yogurt or pill will not kill the fungus, but they do restore natural bacteria flora into your body, which may be enough to treat the infection. When that does not work, your doctor will provide you with an anti-fungal medication. Those with weakened immune systems will be given anti-fungal medications in the form of a lozenge, a tablet or a liquid that can be swished in your mouth and then swallowed. When diabetics get their diabetes under control, their oral thrush may go away on its own.
Warm salt water rinses can help alleviate painful lesions. Use ½ tsp. to a cup of warm water, swish in your mouth for 10 seconds, then spit out. Brush your teeth and tongue at least twice a day and visit your dentist regularly. Avoid mouthwashes, as they can destroy the natural balance of bacteria in your mouth.