We all have bacteria in our mouths. Some of these microorganisms promote health, while others do not -- but the good bacteria keep the bad in check, keeping our mouths relatively clean and free from infection.
When an element is introduced to upset this balance, the harmful bacteria can grow out of control, producing diseases such as oral thrush.
Thrush is an overgrowth of candida fungus, otherwise known as yeast. So an outbreak of thrush is basically a yeast infection in the mouth -- it sounds gross -- but it happens to the best of us. Fortunately, the more you know about thrush, the greater chances you have of preventing it.
A Noticeable Problem
Oral thrush consists of a cluster of raised, white lesions, which resemble the appearance of cottage cheese. Thrush often settles on the tongue and inner cheeks, but can also spread to other areas of the mouth. Although anyone can get thrush, the condition mainly affects babies, seniors and those with compromised immune systems.
Although oral thrush is relatively harmless, the lesions can become painful and may even bleed when scraped away. This chronic condition usually appears suddenly and lasts for weeks -- extreme cases of oral thrush may even spread to the esophagus, making swallowing difficult. While most of us will eventually recover from oral thrush, there is a reason for concern when it affects patients with weakened immune systems -- they should have oral thrush treated as soon as possible to prevent it from spreading to other parts of the body.
Are You at Risk?
Several triggers are known to alter the balance of bacteria in our bodies. Antibiotics and birth control pills are medications known to cause yeast infections. Some medical conditions also increase our chances of getting oral thrush: Cancer and HIV patients are more susceptible to infection, because a weakened immune system has a harder time defending itself. Changes in saliva caused by diabetes and dry mouth can reduce the body's ability to fight "bad" bacteria, which enables candida fungus to multiply. Finally, factors such as smoking, ill-fitting dentures and stress are also known to produce oral thrush.