Dentistry Ear, Nose and Throat

What is burning mouth syndrome?

Burning mouth syndrome is a poorly understood condition that causes a burning sensation in the tongue or mouth.

The pain and discomfort caused by burning mouth syndrome (BMS) are often recurrent. While BMS is tricky to treat, there are steps that people can take to reduce their discomfort.

What is burning mouth syndrome?

lady holding mouth due to burning mouth syndrome
Burning mouth syndrome may be tricky to treat and can occur in any area of the mouth.

BMS causes a sudden burning, scalding, or tingling sensation in the mouth. It can occur in any area of the mouth, including the tongue, cheeks, and the roof of the mouth.

Some people experience BMS on a daily basis for long periods of time, while other people only experience it periodically.

BMS is a rare condition, occurring in less than 2 percent of the population. Because doctors know relatively little about the condition, it can be difficult to diagnose and treat.


Symptoms

People who experience BMS report a scalding, tingling, or burning sensation occurring in the mouth. The severity of these symptoms varies between individuals.

The pain or burning can last for a few hours to a few days. It may also start suddenly, disappear, and start again several months later.

Some people who have BMS may feel increased pain throughout the day, while others find some relief from eating or drinking.

Additional symptoms may include:

  • numbness
  • dry mouth
  • altered taste in the mouth


Types

BMS may be classified by either its cause or symptoms.

There are three different types of BMS based on its symptoms:

  • Type 1: A person wakes with no burning, but symptoms increase throughout the day. People with diabetes who experience BMS are likely to have this type.
  • Type 2: People have persistent symptoms during the day but no symptoms at night. This often coincides with chronic anxiety.
  • Type 3: Symptoms are intermittent and may be related to food allergies.


Causes

Mouth swab for burning mouth syndrome
A doctor may diagnose burning mouth syndrome using blood tests, allergy tests, and a mouth swab.

When BMS is classified by cause, it is considered to be primary or secondary.

Primary BMS does not have an identifiable cause, whereas secondary BMS is linked to an underlying condition.

Some of the possible underlying conditions that can cause BMS include:

  • allergies
  • hormonal imbalances
  • dry mouth
  • acid reflux
  • infections in the mouth
  • medications
  • nutritional deficiencies in iron or zinc
  • anxiety
  • diabetes

Older women are more likely to develop burning mouth syndrome than younger women due to hormonal imbalances. In older women, this imbalance is largely due to a lack of estrogen.

Diagnosis

Diagnosing BMS involves ruling out underlying conditions or other issues that may be causing the symptoms. To do this, a doctor will start by reviewing the person’s medical history and current medications.

The doctor may also need to perform a variety of tests, including:

  • oral swabs
  • biopsy
  • blood tests
  • saliva flow test
  • imaging test
  • allergy test


Treatment

Treatment will depend on the type of BMS a person has and whether there are any underlying causes.

Primary BMS may be difficult to treat as it does not have a known cause. However, a person can try to reduce the severity of their symptoms by:

chili peppers
A person with burning mouth syndrome should avoid eating spicy foods.
  • avoiding acidic or spicy foods
  • reducing stress
  • avoiding any other known food triggers
  • exercising regularly
  • changing toothpaste
  • avoiding mouthwashes containing alcohol
  • sucking on ice chips
  • avoiding alcohol if it triggers symptoms
  • drinking cool liquids throughout the day
  • quitting smoking
  • eating a balanced diet
  • checking medications for potential triggers

Symptoms of secondary BMS will usually go away once the underlying cause is treated.

Where acid reflux is causing BMS, a doctor may prescribe antacids or acid blockers as well as recommend some dietary changes.

Mouth infections will likely require medication or antibiotics to treat the infection. In some situations, a doctor will prescribe a pain reliever. BMS should resolve after treatment is complete.

When a person has dry mouth, a doctor may suggest that they take vitamin supplements, or the doctor may prescribe a vitamin injection, oral rinses, or lozenges to help produce saliva.

It is important to get a proper diagnosis to treat and manage the symptoms of BMS effectively.

Outlook

Burning mouth syndrome can be painful and irritating. Unfortunately, this unpredictable condition can last for up to several months and may recur.

In some cases, a person may be able to identify and treat the underlying cause of BMS.

BMS will not lead to any further complications, but a person should still speak to a doctor about their symptoms.

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