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.
Pregnant women can attest to the hormonal changes in their bodies, which can also cause an overabundance of yeast. Unfortunately, the infection can be passed on to infants during birth, and babies who suffer from oral thrush can pass it back to their mothers while breast feeding.
Find Your Balance
Oral thrush usually clears up on its own, but there are ways for you to speed up the healing process. Healthy adults with thrush should try unsweetened yogurt or acidophilus capsules to control the infection. For babies and patients with weakened immune systems, doctors may prescribe an antifungal medication to clear up thrush sooner.
Although most people don't have to worry about getting thrush, there are precautions you can take to prevent yeast from growing out of control:
Practice good oral hygiene. Brushing and flossing removes bacteria and dental plaque from your oral cavity. If you do have an outbreak of oral thrush, proper oral hygiene will help manage it. It's important to note that the use of some mouthwashes should be avoided during an outbreak, as they can alter the balance of bacteria. Instead, use a salt water rinse if you suffer from oral thrush.
Change your diet. Foods that contain a lot of sugar or yeast encourage the growth of candida fungus. There are foods that restore the natural balance of mouth bacteria, such as fresh-culture yogurt.
Schedule regular dental visits. See your dentist for a professional dental cleaning every six months. During your regular dental visit your dentist checks for signs of infection and adjust dentures for a proper fit.
Avoid smoking and control stress. Avoiding smoking and controlling stress can help reduce your chances of getting thrush and several other ailments as well.
Keep nursing clean. Disinfecting pacifiers and bottle nipples will help clear up oral thrush in babies. The use of nursing pads without plastic linings can keep the infection from spreading to your clothing.
If you do notice signs of oral thrush, see a dentist as soon as you can. A dentist will be able to diagnose the problem and rule out other dental problems, such as oral cancer. With dental checkups, an excellent diet and great oral hygiene, you'll be able to find the perfect balance -- of bacteria, that is!