Oral thrush, also called oral candidiasis, occurs when the fungus Candida albicans accumulates on the lining of your mouth, leaving creamy white patches on the tongue, roof of the mouth, inner cheeks, and throat. This candida fungus normally lives in the mouth, digestive tract, and skin, but it can outgrow and cause infection. For this reason, it’s important to know how to treat oral thrush.
Although it is more likely to occur in babies, older adults, and people with weak immune systems, oral thrush can affect anyone. Oral thrush can be transmitted to other people. Pregnant women can pass it to their babies during birth, children who share the same toys can get it, and adults can transmit it through saliva.
Oral thrush is considered a mild infection that rarely causes complications, but it may become dangerous for those with compromised immune systems. In severe cases, usually related to serious diseases such as cancer or HIV/AIDS, the lesions may spread into the esophagus (the tube that connects the mouth to the stomach). This condition, called candida esophagitis, causes difficulty swallowing, pain, or the sensation that food is getting stuck in the throat.
Oral thrush can also cause burning mouth syndrome, a health condition that manifests as an excruciating burning sensation in the mouth, with additional symptoms such as dry mouth, tingling or numbness throughout the mouth and tongue, and a metallic aftertaste.
Oral Thrush Causes
Several factors, such as a susceptible immune system, can increase the likelihood of developing oral thrush. You may be at higher risk if any of the following underlying conditions or circumstances apply to you.
- Vulnerable immune system: Some medical conditions and treatments can compromise the immune system, such as cancer treatments, organ transplantation, and HIV/AIDS.
- Diabetes: If diabetes is untreated or the disease is not well controlled, your saliva may contain a high amount of sugar, which encourages the growth of candida yeast.
- Vaginal yeast infections: These infections are caused by the same candida fungus that causes oral thrush—and the infection can be transmitted to the baby.
- Medications: Drugs such as prednisone, inhaled corticosteroids, or antibiotics can disrupt the natural balance of microorganisms in the body and increase the risk of oral thrush.
- Oral conditions: Dentures, especially upper dentures, or conditions that cause dry mouth can increase the risk of developing oral thrush.
- Breastfeeding: Oral thrush can be passed back and forth from baby to nursing mother. If you are breastfeeding, your health care provider may give your baby a gentle antifungal medication and you an antifungal cream to apply to your breasts.
Symptoms of Oral Thrush
Watch for the following symptoms of oral thrush:
- White lesions coating the inner cheeks, tongue, roof of the mouth, and throat
- Slightly raised cottage cheese-like bumps
- Soreness that makes it painful to eat or swallow
- Redness and inflammation
- Cotton mouth
- Loss of taste
- A foul taste in the mouth
- Cracked skin at the corners of the mouth
Medicine for Thrush
The doctor may prescribe antifungal medications, which come in different forms such as lozenges, tablets, or antifungal mouthwash to swish and swallow. Keep in mind that these medications may cause liver damage or allergic reactions, and affect estrogen levels. Antifungal medications reduce the symptoms, but they do not address the environment that caused the disease.
If the candida fungus is resistant to the medication, the doctor may prescribe a drug called amphotericin B. Amphotericin B is a specific antifungal medication that is added to an intravenous fluid that drips through a needle or catheter in the vein for 2 to 6 hours once a day. Side effects include fever, fast breathing, blurred vision, fainting, vomiting, and changes in heartbeat. Doctors use amphotericin B when fungal infections are life-threatening, but it might be prescribed to people with weak immune systems as well.
How to Treat Oral Thrush with Home Remedies
Wondering how to treat oral thrush using home remedies? You can minimize your risk of developing it and help get rid of it by following these tips.
Practice good oral hygiene by brushing your teeth with a soft toothbrush (so you don't irritate the lesions) at least twice a day and flossing daily. To improve oral health, replace your toothbrush often until the candida infection clears up—do not share toothbrushes. Ask your doctor about ways to avoid or treat your dry mouth. Start by limiting caffeine consumption and quit smoking (if you are a smoker).
If you wear dentures, remove them at night. Make sure dentures do not cause irritation, and clean them daily. We recommend that you soak dentures overnight in vinegar or a natural denture cleaner.
Visit your dentist regularly. Ask how often he/she needs to see you, especially if you have diabetes or wear dentures.
Limit the consumption of foods that contain sugar, which causes the growth of candida yeast. Trade in high-fructose corn syrup for natural sugars, like honey and maple syrup, in small amounts. A study published in the Journal of Reproductive Medicine found that eliminating sugary foods reduces candida overgrowth.
Warm Saltwater Rinses
Dissolve a 1/2 teaspoon (2.5 milliliters) of salt in 1 cup (237 milliliters) of warm water. Swish the rinse and then spit it out—do not swallow.
A 2011 study shows that people who use cinnamon in their diets are less at risk of developing candida overgrowth than those who don’t.
Drink a cup of unsweetened cranberry juice to create an acidic environment that makes it difficult for candida to thrive.
Fermented vegetables strengthen the immune system. Kimchi, pickles, and sauerkraut contain probiotics that help restore the balance of bacteria in the body. Starchy vegetables and legumes like sweet potatoes, yams, peas, mung beans, lentils, kidney beans, butternut squash, carrots, and beets can also help to clear candida yeast from the body.
Coconut oil has antimicrobial properties. A 2007 study published in the Journal of Medicinal Food found that coconut oil was active against species of candida at 100% concentration compared to a common antifungal medication. You can practice oil pulling by swishing a tablespoon of coconut oil in your mouth for 20 minutes and then spitting it, along with the bacteria, out of your mouth.
The allicin in raw garlic is a powerful antifungal, antibiotic, and antiviral. Eat a clove of raw garlic per day and use an organic raw garlic supplement.
Vitamin C boosts the immune system. Take 1,000 milligrams of vitamin C twice daily.
A 2007 study published in Microbiology shows that clove is as effective as a drug commonly prescribed to manage oral thrush. Use 2–3 drops of clove oil with 1 tablespoon of coconut oil and swish in the mouth for 20 minutes. Then spit it out and brush your teeth.
A 2010 study published in the Brazilian Journal of Microbiology shows that oregano oil has a powerful effect against candida. Add 1–4 drops of oregano oil to a glass of water.
Pau d’arco Tea
Pau d’arco tea has antifungal properties and kills candida overgrowth. Drink pau d’arco tea or take a tablet to treat oral thrush. To make pau d’arco tea, put 2 cups of bark into 4 cups of boiling water and let it sit for 20 minutes. Let it cool for at least an hour, strain the water, and drink small portions throughout the day.
Gentian violet is a popular oral thrush home remedy and easily obtained over the counter from pharmacies or online. This violet-hued synthetic dye has antifungal properties that set to work to eradicate oral thrush when applied two to three times a day.
With powerful antiseptic and antifungal properties, lemon juice may even be more effective as an oral thrush treatment than gentian violet is. A 2009 study published in the journal Phytomedicine showed that lemon juice was more effective than gentian violet at treating oral thrush in HIV patients.
Cut a lemon in half and squeeze the juice into 1 cup of water. You can swish the lemon water around as a mouthwash or drink it.