The host immune status is critical for preventing opportunistic infections with Candida albicans. Whether the natural fungal diversity that exists between C. albicans isolates also influences disease development remains unclear. Here, we used an experimental model of oral infection to probe the host response to diverse C. albicans isolates in vivo and found dramatic differences in their ability to persist in the oral mucosa, which inversely correlated with the degree and kinetics of immune activation in the host. Strikingly, the requirement of interleukin (IL)-17 signaling for fungal control was conserved between isolates, including isolates with delayed induction of IL-17. This underscores the relevance of IL-17 immunity in mucosal defense against C. albicans. In contrast, the accumulation of neutrophils and induction of inflammation in the infected tissue was strictly strain dependent. The dichotomy of the inflammatory neutrophil response was linked to the capacity of fungal strains to cause cellular damage and release of alarmins from the epithelium. The epithelium thus translates differences in the fungus into qualitatively distinct host responses. Altogether, this study provides a comprehensive understanding of the antifungal response in the oral mucosa and demonstrates the relevance of evaluating intraspecies differences for the outcome of fungal–host interactions in vivo.