What’s that white stuff on your tongue? And why does your mouth feel “funny” — maybe a little bit like sandpaper? Well, my friend, you may have a case of thrush.
Thrush can strike anyone, but some people are far more vulnerable.
“We usually see thrush in children, whose immune systems are developing, or older adults, whose immune systems are starting to fail,” says otolaryngologist Tony Reisman, MD. “People who have conditions that affect the immune system are also more susceptible.”
While thrush typically goes away on its own, there are home remedies you can use to help speed up recovery or alleviate pain. Dr. Reisman talks about which ones to try.
What is thrush?
Thrush is a fungal infection that can grow in your mouth, throat and other parts of your body.
Thrush is caused by the overgrowth of a type of fungus called Candida. Mouth and throat thrush is called oropharyngeal candidiasis.
In your mouth, thrush can look like cottage cheese — white, raised lesions on your tongue and cheeks. Thrush can quickly become irritated and cause mouth pain and redness.
It can be challenging to know if your mouth woes are related to the Candida fungus that causes thrush. So how do you know if you have oral thrush versus a normal tongue? Common signs include:
- A white, cottage cheese-like coating.
- Redness, burning or soreness.
- A change in your ability to taste.
- Cracking of your tongue or corners of your lips.
- A dry, cotton- or sandpaper-like feeling.
Home remedies of oral thrush
Dr. Reisman recommends using good oral hygiene for three to four weeks to see if thrush resolves on its own. Here are a few home remedies that can also help.
Try dissolving 1/2 teaspoon of salt into a cup of warm water. Swish the salt-water rinse around your mouth for 1 or 2 minutes and then spit out the mixture.
With its antiseptic properties, salt can help soothe and cleanse your mouth.
Like the salt-water solution, mix 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda into a cup of warm water. Swish around your mouth and then spit out.
A study showed that using baking soda, or sodium bicarbonate, is a good at-home disinfectant.
If you have thrush, the yeast in your mouth is out of balance. Eating yogurt can be a good way to restore that balance.
But you don’t want to eat just any yogurt. Look for varieties that have probiotics or live cultures and are unsweetened. Yogurt won’t kill the thrush bacteria, but it will stop its growth.
Some may think lemon juice can help with thrush because of its antiseptic and antifungal properties, but don’t apply lemon juice directly to lesions as it can cause burning and irritation.
If you want to try lemon juice, mix the juice of half a lemon to a cup of water. You can drink the mixture or use it as a mouth rinse.
A study shows that curcumin, the compound found in turmeric, may help treat thrush thanks to its anti-inflammatory and antifungal properties. The study also shows that it’s more effective when combined with piperine, a compound found in black pepper.
You can make a drink using 1/2 teaspoon of turmeric paste, a cup of water or milk and a pinch of black pepper. Heat on the stove until warm. As you drink the mixture, swish it around your mouth.
Oregano oil, which is typically used in cooking, may help treat thrush. A study shows that its antimicrobial and antifungal properties were effective against Candida.
But be careful of using oregano oil on its own, though, either orally or topically. Instead, use a mixture made with a few drops of oregano oil and water to swish around your mouth. Spit out the mixture after a few minutes.
Apple cider vinegar
Thanks to the antifungal properties found in apple cider vinegar, a study shows that it may help treat thrush.
Avoid using apple cider vinegar on its own, though, as it can cause burning in your mouth. Instead, combine 1 teaspoon of apple cider vinegar with a cup of water. Swish around your mouth for a minute, then spit out.
You may have come across clove oil at your dentist’s office. The oil is used as an antiseptic and pain reliever.
A study shows that using clove oil is as effective as an antiviral drug nystatin to treat thrush.
To use at home, you can either take a supplement or make a clove oil rinse. Steep ground clove in hot water for 5 minutes, then strain. Swish the mixture around your mouth and then spit out.
Does thrush go away on its own?
Thrush often goes away on its own once you stop whatever is causing the problem.
“For example, if antibiotics led to thrush, just waiting a few weeks may give the body time to return to a natural yeast balance,” says Dr. Reisman.
Inhaled oral steroids, which are used to treat asthma, can also cause thrush. Dr. Reisman says thrush can be avoided by rinsing and gargling with tap water after using your inhaler.
If it’s been a few weeks and you’ve been dutifully rinsing your mouth twice a day, but the white stuff is still there, it’s time to call your primary care provider.
Your healthcare provider will want to look at your mouth to rule out other causes, including:
- Burning mouth syndrome (a burning sensation in the mouth that has no obvious cause).
- Geographic tongue (harmless patches on the top and sides of the tongue with no known cause).
- Precancerous or cancerous lesions.
If it is thrush, your healthcare provider will likely order an antifungal rinse. You’ll swish, swish, swish for 10 to 14 days, which will help your body regain its natural yeast balance.
But if your symptoms still don’t improve, or you have recurrent episodes of thrush, visit an ear, nose and throat specialist (otolaryngologist) to discuss the diagnosis and treatment.
People who are prone to thrush — whether from dentures, immune system-suppressing drugs or a condition like HIV — can take steps to avoid it (because you can’t be on an antifungal medication forever).
Dr. Reisman recommends these behaviors to prevent thrush:
- See your dentist. Practice good oral hygiene, including getting a professional dental cleaning twice a year.
- Rinse. If you need steroid inhalers, make sure to rinse your mouth after using them.
- Drink water. Keep yourself hydrated so your mouth doesn’t get dry.
- Watch your sugar. Limit the sugary foods yeast feeds on, and maintain good blood sugar levels, especially if you have diabetes.
- Quit smoking. No explanation needed!