Oral thrush in adults 

Introduction 

Oral thrush often causes white patches to develop in the mouth 

Other types of thrush

Thrush can also affect the vagina, skin and the head of the penis (glans).

For more information about other types of thrush, see:

Oral thrush medicines information

Read more about the medicines used to treat oral thrush in adults

Oral thrush is a fungal infection of the mouth. It is not contagious and is usually successfully treated with antifungal medication.

It is also called oral candidosis (or candiasis) because it is caused by a group of yeasts called Candida.

Symptoms of oral thrush can include:

  • white patches (plaques) in the mouth that can often be wiped off, leaving behind red areas that may bleed slightly
  • loss of taste or an unpleasant taste in the mouth
  • redness inside the mouth and throat
  • cracks at the corners of the mouth
  • a painful, burning sensation in the mouth

In some cases, the symptoms of oral thrush can make eating and drinking difficult.

When to seek medical advice

Speak to your GP if you develop symptoms of oral thrush. If left untreated, the symptoms will often persist and your mouth will continue to feel uncomfortable.

In severe cases that are left untreated, there is also a risk of the infection spreading further into your body, which can be serious.

Your GP will usually be able to diagnose oral thrush simply by examining your mouth. Sometimes they may also recommend blood tests to look for certain conditions associated with oral thrush, such as diabetes and nutritional deficiencies.

What causes oral thrush?

Low numbers of the fungus Candida are naturally found in the mouth and digestive system of most people. They don't usually cause any problems, but can lead to oral thrush if they multiply.

There are a number of reasons why this may happen, including:

Babies, young children and elderly people are at a particularly high risk of developing oral thrush, as are people with certain underlying conditions, including diabetes, an iron deficiency or vitamin B12 deficiency, an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism) and HIV.

As most people already have Candida fungi living in their mouth, oral thrush is not contagious. This means it cannot be passed to others.

Treating oral thrush

Oral thrush can usually be successfully treated with antifungal medicines. These usually come in the form of gels or liquid that you apply directly inside your mouth (topical medication), although tablets or capsules are sometimes used.

Topical medication will usually need to be used several times a day for around 7 to 14 days. Tablet or capsules are usually taken once daily.

These medications don't often have side effects, although some can cause nausea (feeling sick), vomiting, bloating, abdominal (tummy) pain and diarrhoea.

If antibiotics or corticosteroids are thought to be causing your oral thrush, the medicine – or the way it is delivered – may need to be changed or the dosage reduced.

Preventing oral thrush

There are a number of things you can do to reduce your chances of developing oral thrush, including:

  • rinsing your mouth after meals
  • brushing your teeth twice a day with a toothpaste that contains fluoride and interdental cleaning (flossing) regularly
  • visiting your dentist regularly for check-ups, even if you wear dentures or have no natural teeth
  • removing your dentures every night, cleaning them with paste or soap and water before soaking them in a solution of water and denture-cleaning tablets
  • brushing your gums, tongue and inside your mouth with a soft brush twice a day if you wear dentures or have no or few natural teeth
  • visiting your dentist if your dentures do not fit properly
  • stopping smoking if you smoke
  • rinsing your mouth with water and spitting it out after using a corticosteroid inhaler, and using a spacer (a plastic cylinder that attaches to the inhaler) when you take your medicine
  • ensuring that any underlying condition you have, such as diabetes, is well controlled

If you have a condition or are receiving treatment that could put you at a high risk of developing oral thrush, your doctor may recommend taking a course of antifungal medication to prevent this happening.

Read more about dental health and looking after dentures.

Page last reviewed: 14/08/2014

Next review due: 14/08/2016

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Comments

The 9 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

Truthsearcher said on 01 November 2012

This advice completely neglects to mention a main cause of Candidiasis being the overuse of antibiotics? It also neglects to advise patients that this condition can develop into a life threatening situation for the patient IF the condition is not recognised by a Doctor and goes on without treatment, as it has in my case for over 1 year. I know this to be a fact, as it happened to me in 2011 when I was misdiagnosed with a chest infection twice in 6 months and given 6 lots of antibiotics. Despite many visits to the Doctor and a great deal of expensive and unnecessary procedures to rule out other causes of my health problems, Candidiasis has never been mentioned . Infact it has been ignored by the new surgery Doctors that I have changed to. This condition can be relatively easily treated, and yet if left untreated can lead to early death. I am extremely annoyed by my lack of treatment and intend to get the appropriate treatment first thing in the morning. I will be taking along all the relevant information that I have research on the internet in order to inform my Doctor on exactly what treatment I need and expect. I advise others who believe they are suffering from this condition to get treatment straight away, and most importantly, NEVER automatically agree to taking two lots of antibiotics at the same time unless the Doctor can give you a very good reason why you should.

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eviechads said on 08 October 2012

I have recently suffered from oral thrush and still using the oral gel, i have never had this before but suffer regular with vaginal thrush. Im confused and upset has to how i have it.. research it endlessly and thought i maybe vitamin deficant so taking iron and B-12..
I dont have asthma, i look after my teeth and i dont have HIV... when i looked at all the write ups on the subject i was freaked out...

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brigittarndt said on 10 July 2012

I am a 28 yr old female who just got diagnosed with thrush for the second time in 9 months (about the time I have used symbicort for asthma). Both times my first symptom was a dry/horse throat. Quickly followed by frequent hot flashes and metallic/methol /cotton sensation in mouth. Then last, the white tounge. This second time I do not have "plaques" on my tounge or any white. Just on the back of my throat where I can not brush, says doc. I asked a lot of people in my community and only 1 adult had ever had it! Most people had not ever heard of thrush. The first time I got it could be from prednisone for poison oak. Doc didn't tell me about eating yogurt or taking a probiotic suppliments while using steroids/antibiotics!

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blahbleh21 said on 19 June 2012

Corticosteroids

If you use inhaled corticosteroids as part of your asthma treatment, you can help prevent oral thrush by:

rinsing your mouth with water after using your inhaler

developing a good technique when you inhale corticosteroids by using a spacer

A spacer is a small device that looks like a plastic tube. It is attached to your inhaler and can help to get the corticosteroid medicine right into your lungs, minimising the amount of contact that it has with your mouth.

(It's on the prevention page, people).

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blahbleh21 said on 19 June 2012

Corticosteroids

If you use inhaled corticosteroids as part of your asthma treatment, you can help prevent oral thrush by:

rinsing your mouth with water after using your inhaler

developing a good technique when you inhale corticosteroids by using a spacer

A spacer is a small device that looks like a plastic tube. It is attached to your inhaler and can help to get the corticosteroid medicine right into your lungs, minimising the amount of contact that it has with your mouth.

(It's on the prevention page, people).

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n4ncy said on 28 May 2012

I am in agreement with other comments but surprised that this website has been updated to take any criticism into account as yet.
These are very valid points - and I to speak as a person with asthma, using inhalers which are known to cause oral thrush in some people, However, it is pointless to comment if all comments are simply ignored.

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LucyPickles said on 04 December 2011

Like the first commenter, I am also asthmatic, and this article makes no mention of oral thrush being a side-effect of asthma inhalers. I came here looking for up to date information on this ailment, but found ridiculous scaremongering instead.

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jelliottuk said on 22 September 2011

I agree with lady above - this advice is alarmist and misleading. Anyone reading it who has oral thrush is likely immediately to think they are also HIV+ or have developed full blown AIDS.

The advice says: 'Oral thrush can also occur in people with a weakened immune system, such as those with HIV and AIDS. About 9 out of 10 people with AIDS have oral thrush, which can often be severe.'

A very irresponsible way of putting it.

Because, of course, to say 9 out of 10 people who have AIDS also have oral thrush does NOT mean that 9 out of 10 people with Oral Thrush will also have AIDS, but people not schooled in statistics could easily understand it in that way and be caused to panic.

Plus the advice slip between referring to HIV and AIDS and AIDS alone, which are very different conditions.

Frightening how ill informed this advice is!

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cadale said on 21 February 2011

I found it totally unhelpful regarding symptons. I have been suffering from what I thought was a 'sore throat'. When it became more and more painful. I consulted my doctor and oral thrush was confirmed. There is nothing in your article which suggests this might be a sympton. I am a 73 year old woman who uses Ventolin and Seretide and always wash my mouth after use I have 'puffed'. I am not H.I.V. positive, do not have Aids nor have I just given birth which is about all the 'symptons' you describe. Not terribly helpful at all.

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