Oral yeast infections are caused by a very common fungus called Candida albicans, the same fungus responsible vaginal yeast infections. Candida lies dormant in the mouths and throats of most people without causing infection. If the immune system is weakened by illness, cancer, or medications, however, fungi can activate and cause a range of uncomfortable symptoms. The most common symptoms of oral yeast infection include white or yellow lesions on the inner cheeks and tongue, pain and tenderness, difficulty swallowing, and loss of taste. Probiotics and antifungal drugs can usually clear up symptoms of oral yeast infection in about two weeks.
Infants are at the highest risk of developing oral yeast infections since their immune systems are not strong enough to fight off the fungus. Older children, adolescents, and adults who have immune system-compromising disorders such as HIV or cancer can also develop infections. Occasionally, an otherwise healthy individual may experience a mild infection. The symptoms of oral yeast infection are similar in most cases.
The first symptoms of oral yeast infection typically include creamy sores and dull aches in the mouth. Lesions can develop on the tongue, cheeks, gums, or roof of the mouth. They are usually small, less than 0.5 inches (about 1.25 centimeters) in diameter, and rough to the touch. Mouth sores can be very tender and bleed easily when they are irritated by the tongue, a toothbrush, or food. Some infants and older people have trouble swallowing and speaking due to constant pain.
Additional symptoms of oral yeast infection may include desensitized taste buds, dry mouth, and cracking around the corners of the lips. Some patients report a cotton-like feeling inside their mouths due to dryness and irritation. Loss of appetite and resulting nutritional deficiencies can occur when a person cannot taste food and experiences painful swallowing.
Without treatment, Candida albicans can start to spread from the mouth to the esophagus. An infected throat can develop lesions similar to the ones found in the mouth and cause severe swallowing difficulties. It is also possible for fungi to spread to the digestive tract and lungs in people with very weak immune systems, which can cause shortness of breath, high blood pressure, and several other serious symptoms.
A doctor can diagnose a yeast infection by evaluating the appearance of lesions and testing mucus samples for the presence of Candida. Patients who are in relatively good health may be instructed to rinse their mouths out with warm saltwater and eat probiotic yogurt for a few days until symptoms improve. An oral antifungal medication may also be prescribed for infants and people with weak immune systems.