How to Treat Oral Thrush in Babies and Young Children

By Max. D Gray. Updated: March 10, 2022
How to Treat Oral Thrush in Babies and Young Children

Oral thrush is another word for a bacterial infection which affects the mucous membranes of the mouth. Known scientifically as oral candidiasis, getting its name from the candida albicans bacteria, there are many different forms of oral thrush. Its appearance can range from a frothy scum type appearance on the tongue to white lesions around the top of the throat. It can be a little jarring to see this type of infection in your infant or child, but it is not considered a serious condition. More concern is raised if the condition appears to be chronic. This oneHOWTO article shows you how to treat oral thrush in babies and young children, but a check-up at the doctor is always recommended if you are unsure.

You may also be interested in: How to Prevent Oral Thrush

Causes of oral thrush in babies and children

Thrush in adults is also a common infection, caused by the same bacteria, but often being known as something else depending on the affected body part. Yeast infections in the genitals are also quite common, giving the impression that this is perhaps an STI.

However, the candida bacteria is one which is naturally found in places like the mouth. It is only when two much growth of this bacteria occurs that oral thrush may be present. Overgrowth can be caused by many factors, but the main cause is likely to be reduced immunity. Children and toddlers often put things in their mouth they shouldn't do. This might lead to toddler thrush, but you should always be careful about

Reduced immunity is particularly likely in premature babies. These babies have come from the womb before they have developed completely, making them a greater risk of infection. If the baby has had antibiotics due to another infection, their immune system can be further weakened. This can lead to the candida bacteria multiplying.

The same goes if the mother has been on antibiotics as the babies antibodies are normally supplied through breast milk. The antibiotics upset the antibodies in the breast milk meaning they are not passed on properly to the child. This lowers the baby's immunity and can lead to the infection occurring. It is also something which can be passed on to the child from the mother if she has a yeast infection at the time of birth. This is because the candida bacteria is passed on through contact during birth.

As oral thrush can grow thanks to lowered immunity, there are other causes which are serious, but thankfully rare. This is known as immunodeficiency and it can be caused by a range of issues. It is something which is caused by HIV/AIDS and different cancers. However, it is also due to the treatment of these diseases and oral thrush would be a secondary symptom. Malnutrition is also a possible cause, especially if they have a lowered immunity.

Symptoms of oral thrush in babies and children

Oral thrush in babies will usually present itself as a white or slightly yellowed foam on the tongue. Depending on the strain of candida bacteria (there are many more than candida albicans, though it is the most common), there may also be white legions, red rawness or even crusted corners of the mouth as occurs with angular cheilitis.

Other than these visible symptoms, there are usually no other signs of the infection. Sometimes a little pain can be experienced, especially if the mucous membranes are affected. You may even see a little blood on those which have become reddened and raw.

Unsurprisingly for a condition which can affect the tongue in this way, an unpleasant taste can accompany this infection. This taste might be metallic or acrid taste, but if your child is young enough to not communicate through words, it will be difficult to know if the child is experiencing a change in taste. If your child is a toddler and starting to speak, this process may be easier.

If your child is able to complain of pain or you have noticed ulcers or white patches in their mouth, you will need to take them to a doctor or specialist. They might convey this pain through crying, although babies will cry for numerous reasons. A doctor can examine the symptoms and confirm the diagnosis of oral thrush or candida. Even though in many cases this kind of infection clears up without any medical treatment, its possible they may be prescribed some kind of oral anti-fungal solution that you will have to apply to the infected areas to speed up the healing process.

Types of oral thrush medication for infants and children

There are two main types of medication for infants and children affect by oral thrush. These are:

  • Miconazole: this is an antifungal medication which often comes in the form of a gel. With a clean finger, you place a small amount of the gel on the tongue or affected part of the infant's mouth. Always be careful of providing a choking hazard to your baby when applying medication like this. Sickness may be a side effect, but it usually passes quickly.
  • Nystatin: this is a drug which is used in a solution form and is one of what the WHO calls their essential medicines. Although it is one of the safest, it can cause a rash or burning sensation when applied to skin. However, it is also used as a preventative medicine for those who may be more likely to get a fungal infection. It is also generally safe for women to use while pregnant, so it can prevent thrush if it is applied during pregnancy.

Other treatments for oral thrush in babies and infants

While you need to take a doctor's advice for treatment, if the case of oral thrush is mild, there may be some home treatments which you can discuss with your physician. However, the main treatment is likely to be nothing as oral thrush will go away on its own if it is mild. If it is mild, it can be beneficial to give yogurt to your child to eat, as yogurt helps and strengthens the beneficial bacterial flora which are vital for the bodies defenses.

The lactobacillus present in yoghurt can help to combat the candida fungus, however depending on the age of the child you should check if they are able to safely consume it.

The best course of treatment of oral thrush is prevention. If your toddler uses a dummy or bottle to feed, you need to thoroughly clean and sterilize the teats to avoid prolonging the yeast infection. To do this, its important to wash them in hot water and avoid sharing these items with siblings or other kids.

Furthermore, if you are still breastfeeding your child, its possible for the infection to spread to your nipples. In this case you should consult your doctor and they may choose to prescribe you some kind of anti-fungal medication. This also occurs if you have nipple thrush yourself and are spreading it to your baby. You will know you have nipple thrush if you have dry or cracked skin on or around your nipple. If you experience pain during feeding, this is also a likely cause.

You should go back to the doctor if the following occurs:

  • The yeast infection has lasted for longer than two weeks.
  • The child can't eat or feed correctly because of the symptoms.
  • The child repeatedly suffers from this kind of oral thrush infection.

If you want some more background information, you may be interested in our article about diagnosing all types of yeast infection.

This article is merely informative, oneHOWTO does not have the authority to prescribe any medical treatments or create a diagnosis. We invite you to visit your doctor if you have any type of condition or pain.

If you want to read similar articles to How to Treat Oral Thrush in Babies and Young Children, we recommend you visit our Diseases & secondary effects category.

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How to Treat Oral Thrush in Babies and Young Children
How to Treat Oral Thrush in Babies and Young Children

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