What is Oral Candidiasis?

Allison Boelcke

Oral candidiasis, also more commonly referred to as oral thrush, is a condition that occurs as the result of candida albicans, a fungus that can build up on the inside of the mouth. The condition does not tend to pose any health risks in those with healthy immune systems, but it can be painful or cause complications in people with compromised immune systems, such as infants, the elderly, or those with autoimmune diseases.

Oral candidiasis, or thrush, is a fungus that builds up inside the mouth.
Oral candidiasis, or thrush, is a fungus that builds up inside the mouth.

The primary cause of oral candidiasis is an excessive amount of the candida albicans fungus in the mouth. Normally the body’s immune system fights off bacteria, viruses, fungi, and other foreign substances, while keeping a strict balance of microorganisms in the body. If the immune system is compromised or not functioning properly, fungus can accumulate instead of being fought off by the immune system. Conditions that may affect the immune system include the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) or cancer.

A baby with thrush may cry excessively.
A baby with thrush may cry excessively.

An upset in the amount of saliva in the mouth may also interfere with the normal amount of microorganisms in the mouth. This can be the result of dry mouth, in which not enough saliva is produced, or if there is too much sugar in the saliva, which can be a side effect of diabetes. Certain medications, particularly antibiotics and corticosteroids, may also upset the body’s level of microorganisms and contribute to oral candidasis.

The main symptom of oral candidiasis is typically white sores on the inside of the mouth. The sores tend to occur most often on the inner cheeks and tongue. The mouth may also become painful and the sores may bleed if they are touched. The condition may also result in a loss of moisture that causes dry mouth, cracked lips, or a decreased sense of taste.

Oral candidiasis can generally be treated by stopping the accumulation of additional candid albicans fungus and helping the body return its microorganism levels to normal. People with healthy immune systems may be encouraged to consume yogurt, which contains bacteria that can regulate the microorganism levels within the body. For people with compromised immune systems who experience severe cases of the condition, doctors may recommend antifungal medications in an attempt to destroy the excess fungus in the body.

If the oral candidiasis cannot be effectively treated, it may cause health complications. Persistent infections with the fungus may spread from the mouth down into the esophagus, the area between the throat and stomach. Sores in the esophagus tend to be more painful than mouth sores and can make eating painful. The condition may also spread to other areas within the body and cause severe pain or prevent organs from functioning properly.

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