About a month ago, I had an infection in my gums around two lower front teeth. I went to the dentist, and she told me it wasn’t serious. She examined my teeth and took x-rays, and then she told her hygienist to be extra careful with my cleaning.
For follow-up care, she recommended that I rinse my mouth with hydrogen peroxide twice a day, and let her know if it didn’t clear up. I’ve been following her advice, and the infection has cleared up just fine, but I’ve been in pain for about a week now. My mouth and cheeks and gums feel sore, and there are white patches on my cheeks and tongue.
When I showed my girlfriend last night, she said she thought it was an oral yeast infection and she mentioned something about thrush. I’ve never heard of a yeast infection in your mouth, and I thought a thrush was some kind of bird! Can you help me?
Joshua T., Atlanta
Hi there Joshua,
Absolutely! We can clear things up for you, both literally and figuratively. While a thrush is indeed a kind of song bird, thrush is also the term for an oral yeast infection, often called candidiasis. And as you have noted, it can be quite painful.
Basically, we have a number of species of small organisms living in our mouths all the time. Bacteria are one type, and Candida Albicans, a type of yeast, is another. Normally, the bacteria will keep the yeast in balance, but if something disrupts that balance, an overgrowth of yeast will result.
More than likely, your instructions for using the hydrogen peroxide rinse included a two-week cutoff, and you may have just missed this detail. While the rinse is great for short-term use, killing many strains of bacteria, it is so good at its job that after about two weeks, it will kill off too many bacteria, leaving the yeast to proliferate and cause problems.
You can make sure by scraping away one of those white patches. If you have thrush, you’ll be able to rub it off and the tissue underneath will be red and inflamed. Your dentist will most likely help you resolve your infection with the help of an anti-fungal agent, such as Nystatin. And you don’t have to worry in the meantime, because this type of infection is not contagious.The illustrations to the left and the right will enable you to see what an oral yeast infection looks like. More importantly, they will provide a clear distinction between thrush and a thrush and hopefully brighten up your day while you are calling your dentist. The photo on the left shows the characteristic white patches of oral candidiasis, while the one on the right shows the characteristic spotted breast and belly of the songbird.
There are certain populations that are more susceptible to these types of infections. Infants have not yet established the full spectrum of oral bacteria. Undernourished people often lack essential nutrients, leading to thrush. Denture wearers who do not take their dentures out can unintentionally foster yeast growth beneath the dental appliances. And finally, people with compromised immune systems are usually more susceptible.
You can find out more about different types of oral infections on Pumphrey Periodontics’ Gum Disease page.
This Blog is brought to you by Dr. David Pumphrey of Pumphrey Periodontics in Atlanta.