When you’re staring at white spots on your tongue and cheeks and dealing with cotton mouth, you want it to go away—now.
These symptoms likely indicate oral thrush (also called oral candidiasis), and while it’s typically nothing to be concerned about, it can be uncomfortable.
What you’re seeing is an overgrowth of candida yeast.
Candida albicans—the same fungus that causes vaginal yeast infections—naturally grows in the mouth.
But when something throws off the natural balance of the oral microbiome and you get an overgrowth of candida fungus, you develop oral thrush.
The most common oral thrush treatment is prescription antifungal medication.
However, natural remedies may help some people fight a thrush infection.
To help you determine your best course of action, in this article, I’ll explain the science behind 10 home remedies for oral thrush as well as the symptoms of oral thrush and when you should see a doctor for medical advice.
Home Remedies for Oral Thrush
Things you likely have at home or can easily buy may help treat a case of oral thrush or at least help you feel more comfortable until you can see a doctor.
Keep in mind that while they are “natural”, at-home therapies for yeast infections can still cause side effects.
So it’s best to talk to a healthcare provider before trying any of these home remedies, especially if you have any underlying health conditions that may be contributing to your candida infection.
Probiotics are the “good” bacteria that provide a health benefit when you consume them.
In the case of oral thrush, this good bacteria may help restore the balance of flora in your mouth so that candida albicans doesn’t overgrow.
Some studies show that taking probiotic supplements appears to protect against oral thrush, particularly for people who wear dentures.
Supplements containing lactobacillus may have the most benefit.
Apple cider vinegar
Apple cider vinegar, which is essentially fermented apple juice, has natural antifungal properties.
However, it’s unclear if drinking apple cider vinegar can prevent or treat oral thrush.
If you choose to try this home remedy, be sure to dilute the apple cider vinegar, as it is acidic and can damage tooth enamel.
Advocates of this method recommend using 1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar in 1 cup water and using it like mouthwash daily.
Salt (a.k.a. sodium chloride) is an antifungal, hence, some believe an at-home saltwater rinse can be soothing for oral thrush symptoms and other oral problems.
While there is no harm in trying this, there’s also no research on this remedy.
If you decide to try it, use 1/2 teaspoon salt in 1 cup warm water, and be sure not to swallow after rinsing—spit the saltwater out.
Although it’s unknown if good oral hygiene can prevent or heal oral thrush, it’s never a bad idea to take care of your teeth and gums.
Follow these steps:
- Keep up with dental appointments for regular cleanings and checkups.
- Brush and floss daily.
- Choose a soft-bristled toothbrush that won’t irritate your mouth further.
- Change your toothbrush about every three months and use a soft toothbrush.
- Drink enough water daily to prevent a dry mouth.
Baking soda is a common home remedy for oral thrush, but this pantry staple isn’t well studied to prove its effectiveness.
In one trial, people who had oral reconstructive surgery and used a baking soda saline rinse prevented oral thrush.
So while swishing baking soda and water probably won’t harm you, it may not do anything to help treat oral thrush.
Also known as crystal violet or methyl violet 10b, Gentian violet is a type of antiseptic dye used in the 19th century to fight bacteria, fungi, and parasites.
It’s been shown in studies to be effective against candida albicans.
You can find Gentian violet, an over-the-counter remedy, at most drug stores.
Look for a 1% solution.
To use it, apply a bit to a cotton swab or cotton ball, then gently dab it on the white spots in your mouth.
Keep in mind Gentian violet is a dye, so it can easily stain your mouth or clothes. Also be careful not to swallow the solution.
Some essential oils may be a potential remedy for oral thrush.
The ones that seems to have at least some benefit include:
- Clove oil: Due to its natural analgesic (pain-relieving) and antifungal properties, clove oil is commonly used as a home remedy for oral health and dental problems. Plus cell studies suggest it may prevent or treat oral thrush. You can make a clove mouth salve by adding a few drops of pure clove oil to an edible carrier oil, such as coconut oil. Apply it as needed to the white patches in your mouth, but keep in mind the oil may cause tingling or burning.
- Lemongrass oil: This natural antimicrobial fights bacteria and fungi, and, according to cell studies, inhibits the growth of candida and therefore may help treat oral thrush. Dilute a few drops of the oil in a cup of water and use it as a mouth rinse as needed.
- Rosemary oil: Another essential oil with antifungal properties, rosemary oil also appears to fight candida albicans. If you wish to try this, add a few drops to a cup of water, swish some in your mouth, then spit it out.
- Tea tree oil: Also known as melaleuca oil, tea tree oil is antiseptic that may fight candida and therefore possibly treat oral thrush. One small study of people living with AIDS found that using mouthwash with tea tree oil helped treat oral thrush. Researchers credit a compound called terpinen-4-ol. As with other essential oils for oral thrush, use tea tree oil to make a mouthwash: Dilute a couple drops in water, rinse your mouth with some of this solution, and then spit out.
Coconut oil contains caprylic and lauric acid, both of which have been shown to inhibit the growth of candida.
One study also suggests that coconut oil may be just as powerful as the medication fluconazole in resolving oral thrush symptoms.
A practice called oil pulling may be helpful in fighting oral fungus.
Simply place a tablespoon of raw, virgin coconut oil in your mouth, swish it around as it melts, and spit it out.
If you can, aim to swish for about 20 minutes to get the most benefit.
However, 5-10 minutes may also help.
Because yogurt contains probiotics—”healthy” bacteria that can prevent fungi overgrowth—it may be a helpful at-home remedy for oral thrush.
In one small study, elderly adults consumed probiotic yogurt or regular cheese.
Those who ate the yogurt had a 32 percent reduction in oral thrush incidence.
If you try yogurt for oral thrush, choose plain yogurt that’s low in sugar or has no added sugar.
Too much sugar in your diet may contribute to fungal overgrowth and make your symptoms worse.
Lemon juice is considered a natural antifungal.
However, only one small study has examined its effects on candida: People living with HIV who also had oral thrush took gentian violet, lemon juice, or lemon grass for 11 days.
The lemon juice appeared to help treat the infection.
While more research is necessary, if you wish to try this, squeeze half a lemon into a glass of water, and drink it.
You can also use a mixture of lemon juice and a cup of water as a mouth rinse.
It may not be helpful to apply lemon juice directly to your oral thrush lesions since the juice’s acidity can increase irritation.
Symptoms of Oral Thrush
Everyone has candida albicans in their mouth, and it doesn’t usually result in problems.
But when the fungus overgrows, it can lead to oral thrush and bothersome symptoms such as:
- Creamy, cottage cheese-like white lesions on the tongue, inner cheeks, gums, tonsils, or roof of the mouth
- Redness, soreness, or a burning sensation
- Difficulty eating or swallowing
- Loss of taste
- Dry mouth or a cotton-like feeling in the mouth
- Redness in the corners of the mouth
- Mild bleeding if the lesions are scraped
When to See a Doctor for Oral Thrush
Most cases of oral thrush go away within 1-2 weeks.
But in some cases, it’s best to see a healthcare provider for proper diagnosis and care.
Visit your doctor if:
- You have a medical condition (such as HIV or cancer) that causes a weak immune system.
- Your child shows symptoms of oral thrush.
- You are generally healthy but the sores won’t go away with at-home treatments.
How K Health Can Help
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K Health has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.
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Anti-Candida Albicans Activity of Essential Oils Including Lemongrass (Cymbopogon Citratus) Oil and Its Component, Citral. (2003).
Antifungal Activity of Apple Cider Vinegar on Candida Species Involved in Denture Stomatitis. (2015).
Antifungal Activity of Chemotype Essential Oils from Rosemary Against Candida Albicans. (2013).
Antifungal Activity of Essential Oils Extract from Origanum Dloribundum Munby, Rosmarinus Officinalis L. and Thymus Ciliatus Desf. Against Candida Albicans Isolated from Bovine Clinical Mastitis. (2017).
Antimicrobial Activity of Apple Cider Vinegar Against Escherichia Coli, Staphylococcus Aureus and Candida Albicans; Downregulating Cytokine and Microbial Protein Expression. (2018).
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Natural Teeth Whitening: Fact vs. Fiction. (n.d.).
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Treatment of Oral Thrush in HIV/AIDS Patients with Lemon Juice and Lemon Grass (Cymbopogon Citratus) and Gentian Violet. (2008).