Oral thrush is a fungal infection that happens in and around babies’ and children’s mouths. It’s very common in the first year of life and usually isn’t anything to worry about. Sometimes it doesn’t even make babies uncomfortable.
Causes of oral thrush
Thrush can occur in the throat, tongue and moist lining of your baby’s mouth.
Oral thrush is caused by the yeast Candida albicans. We’ve all got this yeast in our bodies, and it normally lives in balance with other organisms. But if the balance of organisms in the body is upset, yeast can multiply and produce an infection.
This process might happen as a result of antibiotic treatment, which destroys normal bacteria in the bowel, affecting the balance of other organisms.
Your baby might also develop oral thrush if he sucks on objects already infected with thrush, like nipples, teats or dummies.
Babies can also pick up oral thrush when they pass through their mothers’ vaginas during birth. The vagina often has small amounts of candida naturally.
Children with weak immune systems are more likely to get oral thrush infections. But if your baby has thrush, it doesn’t necessarily mean she has a problem.
If your child uses inhaled corticosteroids, like those used for asthma treatment, he’s more likely to develop oral thrush.
Oral thrush doesn’t easily spread between children.
Symptoms of oral thrush
If your child has oral thrush, you might notice that your child has white spots or patches on the inside of her cheeks, lips and tongue. You can’t easily wipe away these patches, and they often leave red, inflamed areas when you try to remove them.
Your baby or young child doesn’t usually know he has thrush, because it generally doesn’t cause irritation.
If the areas become really red and angry, it might cause irritation – in this case, your child might be reluctant to feed or eat. She might also drool.
When to see your doctor about oral thrush
You should take your child to the GP if:
- you see white patches on the inside of your child’s mouth
- your child is generally unwell or has a fever for no obvious reason
- your child suffers from thrush infections that keep coming back, even though you’re using treatment recommended by a health professional.
Oral thrush treatment
Your doctor will probably prescribe antifungal drops or oral gel, which you use after each feed or meal for 10 days.
Sometimes oral thrush goes along with thrush in the nappy area, which will need treatment at the same time.
You can still breastfeed if your child has oral thrush. Your doctor might advise you to put some antifungal cream on your nipples as well, but you should wipe this off before feeding.
Prevention of oral thrush
Sterilise teats and bottles after each use to stop your child from getting thrush again. Also sterilise dummies and teething rings regularly.
If your baby gets nappy rash, make sure it’s treated properly.