Thrush: out of the mouth of babes

Cottage cheese like curds coat the inside of your baby’s tongue and inner cheeks. What is this white stuff that won’t wipe off? Not breast milk, not formula, it’s thrush.

Thrush, fancy medical name Oral Candidiasis, is caused by an overgrowth of yeast, called Candida. Although not painful, it may cause discomfort akin to having a film of cotton coating the inside of the mouth. 

We all have Candida on our bodies. Usually we have enough bacteria on our bodies to suppress the growth of Candida, but in cases when there is less than usual bacteria such as in young babies or for kids who are on antibiotics, Candida can emerge. For older kids on inhaled steroids for asthma, failure  to rinse out the mouth after medication use also promotes an environment conducive to thrush. 

To treat thrush, we usually prescribe Nystatin, an anti-fungal/anti-yeast medication, which works topically. Parents apply the medicine to the inside of the baby’s mouth after feedings four times per day. Use Nystatin until thrush is no longer visible for 48 hours. A course takes one to two weeks to complete. An oral medication called fluconazole (brand name Diflucan) may also be prescribed. 

Watch out. Thrush may be thriving on mom’s breasts or on pacifiers or bottle nipples. Mothers can apply the same medicine to their breasts after breast feeding. Scrub pacifiers, bottle nipples, and any other object that goes in to a baby’s mouth extra well with hot water and soap or use the dishwasher.

Thrush that persists despite proper treatment can signal an immune system problem.  So if your child’s thrush is not resolving in the expected time, let your child’s health care provider know.

A newborn’s tongue may always look slightly white. This “coated tongue” in young babies could be residual breast milk or formula and does not need treatment. If you are not sure, bring him in to see his health care provider for proper diagnosis.

Julie Kardos, MD with Naline Lai, MD
©2011 Two Peds in a Pod®

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