Burning Mouth Syndrome

What is Burning Mouth Syndrome?

Burning mouth syndrome is a condition of unknown origin. The disorder is characterized by burning in the mouth without an obvious cause. Patients report the symptoms of this disorder as a burning sensation of the soft tissues in the mouth, including the roof of the mouth. The burning can become sever enough to feel as though you scalded your mouth with hot liquid.

Burning mouth syndrome can have a sudden onset, or gradual onset. Currently, the cause of this sensation is unknown and even with thorough examination and history, it cannot be determined. This can make treatment extremely difficult, but a close working relationship with your health care team can make managing the symptoms easier.

What are the Symptoms of Burning Mouth Syndrome?

While the severity of the symptoms will vary from patient to patient, the overall symptoms remain the same.

Symptoms include

  • A feeing in the mouth as though it has been scalded. The most common area affected is the tongue. However, some patients experience sensations in their lips, gums, throat, and palate.
  • The sensation of dry mouth.
  • Increased thirst.
  • Changes in taste, including the appearance of a bitter, metallic flavor.
  • Complete loss of taste.

Typically, the burning and discomfort experienced has several patterns that it follows. Generally, patients say that:

  • It occurs daily with a small amount of pain in the morning. As the day goes on, it becomes worse.
  • Begins in the morning and lasts throughout the day.
  • Wax and wane throughout the day.

Patients report a disruption in the sensation after drinking. Rarely, the symptoms completely fade on their own and do not return.

Burning Mouth Syndrome Causes

The causes of burning mouth syndrome come in two classifications: primary and secondary. Primary causes are, essentially, when there is no obvious cause or easily diagnosable problems. In these cases, it is believed that burning mouth syndrome is caused by problems with the central nervous system, which controls how senses, such as taste, are perceived.

Cases classified as secondary are caused by another medical complication, which leads to burning mouth syndrome as a result. Some conditions that can cause burning mouth syndrome include oral infections, dry mouth, lack of certain nutrients in one’s diet, dentures, allergies to certain foods, medications, oral hygiene habits, endocrine disorders like diabetes and psychological conditions, like anxiety.

How is Burning Mouth Syndrome Treated?

Secondary burning mouth syndrome depends on the related conditions. Typically, replacing poor fitting dentures or increasing vitamin intake to reverse deficiencies can help treat the condition.

Primary burning mouth syndrome has no cure. Currently, there is no single way to treat it.¬† Unfortunately, there is no solid research proving one way to treat it. Treatment is specifically tailored to a patient’s symptoms. Many patients go through several treatments before they find one that works for them. Generally, patients require a combination of treatments in order to relieve their symptoms.

Burning Mouth Syndrome Prevention

As it is so difficult to understand the causes of burning mouth syndrome, it can be difficult to establish measures to prevent it. The best way to prevent burning mouth syndrome is to ensure that you are not raising your risk through poor habits and are aware of your risk if you already have conditions that tend to lead to secondary burning mouth syndrome.

To start, avoid using things that irritate the mouth, such as tobacco, mouthwashes with strong alcoholic content that can damage the mouth, alcoholic drinks, very spicy foods and foods high in acidic content, like citrus fruits. Be sure to maintain a balanced diet, and especially eat enough foods high in iron, zinc, and vitamins B2, B6, B1, B9 and B12, as deficiencies in these could lead to burning mouth syndrome. If you know you are allergic to certain foods, avoid them. If you ever experience discomfort or a burning sensation in your mouth after eating certain foods, consult a doctor immediately, who can do allergy tests.

Good oral habits are also important for preventing burning mouth syndrome. Avoid grinding teeth, biting on your tongue, brushing teeth aggressively, using abrasive toothpastes and mouth washes, or drinking and eating things that are harsh on the lining of your mouth and gums.

If you know you have conditions that could lead to burning mouth syndrome, take steps to control them. This is important for factors such as psychological conditions, where lack of treatment could lead to more dangerous problems.

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Last Reviewed:
September 18, 2016
Last Updated:
November 22, 2017