Thrush is a fungal infection of the mouth. It usually begins on the tongue and inside of the cheeks. It may also spread to the palate, gums, tonsils, and throat.
Severe, untreated thrush can spread to the:
- Urinary tract
- Whole body—systemic infection causes multiple organ failure and death
Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.
Thrush is caused by a fungus. There are many microorganisms that normally live in the mouth. When these organisms become imbalanced, the fungus can grow and cause thrush. The imbalance of organisms may be caused by a medical condition or medication.
Factors that may increase your baby's chance of getting thrush include:
- Contamination from caregivers
- Contamination during breastfeeding
- Birth complications, such as preterm birth, premature rupture of membranes, or perinatal asphyxia
- Very low birth weight babies admitted to neonatal intensive care
- Vaginal yeast infection in the mother at the time of birth
Factors that may increase your child's chance of getting thrush include:
Thrush may cause the following in infants:
- Decreased interest in feeding
- White, lacy patches on the inside of the cheeks or tongue that don't come off when rubbed
Thrush may cause the following in children:
- Sore mouth and throat
- Difficulty swallowing
- Differences in taste
- White or red patches on the inside of the cheeks or tongue that may or may not come off when rubbed
- Fissures or cracks in the mouth
You will be asked about your child's symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done, including an inspection of the mouth. Diagnosis can usually be done after physical exam. A sample of cells may be taken from the affected area. The sample will be examined under a microscope to confirm thrush or look for other infections.
The goal of treatment is to restore the normal balance of bacteria and yeast in the mouth. If any underlying conditions contribute to thrush, they will also be treated.
In infants, antifungal medications may be a gel or a rinse that is swished around your baby's mouth. Systemic medications may be used if:
- Your baby is at risk for developing a systemic infection
- Your baby can't tolerate other treatments
- Your baby doesn't respond to other treatments
Breastfeeding mothers of babies with thrush can use a topical antifungal medication on their nipples to reduce the baby's infection.
Antifungal medications for children may include oral tablets, rinses, or lozenges that dissolve in the mouth.
Proper Oral Hygiene
Oral hygiene practices that may aid in healing include:
- Clean your baby's mouth with a clean, moist gauze pad as soon as baby teeth appear.
- Have your child rinse his or her mouth with warm salt water.
- Gently scrape patches off your child's mouth with a toothbrush.
- Gently brush any newly appearing teeth with a child-size toothbrush and water.
- Start to clean your baby’s teeth regularly as soon as they come in. Use an amount of fluoride toothpaste that is about the size of a grain of rice. Progress to an amount that is about the size of a pea by the time your child is 3 years of age. This will reduce the risk of your child swallowing it.
- If your child has 2 teeth that touch, you can start to use dental floss.
To help reduce your child's chance of getting thrush, take these steps:
- Maintain proper oral hygiene after treatment.
- Thoroughly clean your baby's pacifier and toothbrush.
- If your baby is prone to thrush and drinks from a bottle, use disposable nipples.
- Avoid mouthwashes and mouth sprays. These can upset the normal balance of yeast and bacteria in the mouth.
- If your child uses a corticosteroid inhaler, make sure they rinse their mouth thoroughly after each use.
- If your child is at risk, ask your child's doctor about antifungal medication.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
National Foundation for Infectious Diseases
Canadian Dental Association
Public Health Agency of Canada
American Dental Association Council on Scientific Affairs. Fluoride toothpaste use for young children. J Am Dent Assoc. 2014 Feb;145(2):190-191.
Healthy habits. American Dental Association Mouth Healthy website. Available at: http://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/babies-and-kids/healthy-habits. Accessed January 28, 2021.
Candida infections of the mouth, throat, and esophagus. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/fungal/diseases/candidiasis/thrush/. Accessed January 28, 2021.
Oral candidiasis. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114902/Oral-candidiasis. Accessed January 28, 2021.
Oral candidiasis in infants. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T435286/Oral-candidiasis-in-infants. Accessed January 28, 2021.
A prospective, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial evaluating the effects of nystatin on the development of oral irritation in patients receiving high-dose intravenous interleukin-2. J Immunother. 2001;24(2):188-192.
Last reviewed March 2020 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Chelsea Skucek, MSN, BS, RNC-NIC Last Updated: 01/28/2021