Do I have thrush? Can I give it to my lover?

Originally Published: February 27, 2004 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: September 17, 2008
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Dear Alice,

Are there other causes for white-coated tongues?? I believe I have thrush. Do I need a tongue culture to confirm it? Can my mate get it by kissing? Could it be the reason for my chronic sore throats lately?? The only difference I notice is I don't have any metallic or salty taste in my mouth. When I get it really bad, that is what I usually experience, as well as a raw tongue. Thanks for any help!!

— Lindee

Dear Lindee,

Thrush is an infection caused by the fungus Candida albicans, the same little beastie responsible for yeast infections. The infection is common among babies, who may be exposed to the microorganism as they pass through the birth canal. Thrush is also common in people who take antibiotic or steroid medication, and in people with compromised immune systems. In all of these cases, the healthy balance of bacteria in the mouth can be disrupted, making it easier for Candida albicans to grow and spread. Smoking is a risk factor, too, since it also upsets the balance of bacteria in the mouth.

Symptoms of thrush can include:

  • white patches on the tongue and insides of the cheeks
  • creamy, cottage-cheese-like sores, also on the tongue and in the mouth
  • pain or burning in the mouth and throat
  • lessened ability to taste food or an unpleasant taste in the mouth

Sometimes, thrush can be a sign of a more serious, underlying condition, especially if you're not part of one of the higher-risk groups mentioned earlier in this answer. Diabetes and HIV are two possibilities. If you're concerned, or if you have been in sexual situations that have placed you at risk, it might be a good idea to get tested by a clinic or health care professional.

Several non-thrush conditions can also cause a white tongue, including:

Scarlet fever
The tongue has a white coating for the first two days of the infection.
Kawasaki disease
A white coating and prominent red bumps appear on the tongue.
Herpes simplex virus — type 1
Cold sores caused by the herpes virus can give the tongue a white coating.
Lichen planus
A skin infection that causes lacy white patches on the tongue and inner cheeks if the mouth is infected.

Most of these conditions, however, come with a variety of other symptoms. An appointment with your health care provider can help you learn more.

You're right that an infected kisser can transmit thrush to a kissee, so place a hold on smooches until you see a health care provider. Your provider might be able to diagnose you just by examining you, or s/he might test some cells from your mouth, as well. Thrush is easily identified by throat culture, so you needn't have much trouble solving this mystery.

Best wishes for a healthy pink tongue,