What is Burning Mouth Syndrome?

Burning Mouth Syndrome


Burning Mouth Syndrome Overview

Burning mouth syndrome is the medical term for ongoing (chronic) or recurrent burning in the mouth without an obvious cause. The discomfort may affect your tongue, gums, lips, inside of your cheeks, roof of your mouth or widespread areas of your whole mouth. Burning mouth syndrome appears suddenly and can be severe, as if you scalded your mouth.

Unfortunately, the cause of burning mouth syndrome often can’t be determined. Although that makes treatment more difficult, don’t despair. By working closely with your health care team, you can often get burning mouth syndrome under better control.

Other names for burning mouth syndrome include scalded mouth syndrome, burning tongue syndrome, burning lips syndrome, stomatodynia and glossodynia.

Is burning mouth more common in certain people?

Burning mouth is more common in postmenopausal women. It is likely related to reduced estrogen levels, which causes the decline in the sensitivity of the taste buds. Occasionally, men or young people develop this problem; usually they have another condition called geographic tongue. This is a benign (mild, of no danger to health) condition in which red patches appear on the tongue surface and move from site to site.

Another factor seems to complicate the issue. There is an apparent difference in people’s ability to taste based on genetic factors. Some people are “nontasters,” some medium “tasters,” and some are super “tasters.” For the supertasters, flavors are much more intense compared with other types of “tasters.” Women are much more likely then men to be super tasters; but even so, few women are super tasters. In summary, most burning tongue sufferers are women who were once super tasters and have now lost taste sensation. Strangely, it has been notice that many of these women are also teeth clenchers. It is thought that pressure on the teeth worsens the burning sensation.

Certain medical problems are also associated with burning mouth. Occasionally, people with Sjögren’s Syndrome (rheumatoid arthritis, dry mouth, and dry eyes), diabetes, thyroid disease, and liver problems have burning mouth. Sometimes patients treated for hypertension with ACE inhibitors develop burning tongue. Even after stopping the medication, the pain may continue if it is not treated.

Causes of a Burn of the Tongue

Underestimating the temperature of steam, hot food, or liquids can cause a burn on your tongue, as well as on other areas of your mouth or lips.

Burning tongue syndrome, also called idiopathic glossopyrosis, is a condition that can make you feel the sensation of burning on the tongue for no apparent reason.

According to the Mayo Clinic, there are two types of burning tongue syndrome: primary and secondary. Primary burning mouth syndrome is the type for which there is no known cause. Secondary burning mouth syndrome is that which is likely caused by another medical condition.

Secondary burning mouth syndrome may be caused by:

  • dry mouth (often a side effect of medications or a symptom of another medical condition)
  • thrush (oral yeast infection)
  • oral lichen planus (an often chronic inside-the-mouth inflammation that is caused by the immune system launching an attack on the mouth’s mucous membrane cells)
  • geographic tongue (a condition in which the tongue’s surface is missing some of its typical small bumps, called papillae, and instead has areas of red, sometimes-raised patches that tend to disappear and then reappear in different areas of the tongue)
  • vitamin deficiencies
  • anxiety, depression, or extreme worry
  • dentures
  • damage to the nerves
  • allergic reaction to certain foods
  • stomach acid that makes its way into the mouth (from conditions such as gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD)
  • medications, such as those used for high blood pressure
  • diabetes, hypothyroidism, and other endocrine disorders
  • an imbalance of hormones, such as during menopause
  • grinding the teeth, brushing the teeth too hard, using mouthwash too often, and other unhealthy oral habits (Mayo)

Symptoms Of Burning Mouth Syndrome

Symptoms of burning mouth syndrome may include:

  • A burning sensation that most commonly affects your tongue, but may also affect your lips, gums, palate, throat or whole mouth
  • A sensation of dry mouth with increased thirst
  • Taste changes, such as a bitter or metallic taste
  • Loss of taste

The discomfort from burning mouth syndrome typically has several different patterns. It may occur every day, with little discomfort when you wake, but become worse as the day progresses. Or it may start as soon as you wake up and last all day. Or discomfort may come and go.

Whatever pattern of mouth discomfort you have, burning mouth syndrome may last for months to years. In rare cases, symptoms may suddenly go away on their own or become less frequent. Burning mouth syndrome usually doesn’t cause any noticeable physical changes to your tongue or mouth.

How is burning mouth treated?

Some patients report that melting ice chips in the mouth or chewing gum helps improve or reduce the discomfort. Some medications seem to help but they are not currently or specifically approved for burning mouth. These medications include certain antidepressants, an antiseizure medication, and gabapentin (a drug used to treat seizures and the pain associated with herpes). Discuss treatment options with your doctor. About one third of those with burning tongue will improve over 3 to 5 years without any treatment at all.

Complications From a Burn of the Tongue

If not identified and treated properly, a severe burn of the tongue can become infected. Second-degree and third-degree burns should always receive attention from a medical professional.

A burn of the tongue can also destroy taste buds, creating a lack of sensation where the burn occurred. However, this is typically a short-term complication, since your taste buds regenerate about every two weeks.

If you have burning tongue syndrome, the severe, untreatable pain can sometimes lead to feelings of depression and anxiety.

Risk factor of Burning Mouth Syndrome

Burning mouth syndrome is uncommon. However, your risk may be greater if:

  • You’re a woman
  • You’re postmenopausal
  • You’re in your 50s, 60s or even 70s.

Burning mouth syndrome usually begins spontaneously, with no known triggering factor. But some studies suggest that certain factors may increase your risk of developing burning mouth syndrome. These risk factors may include:

  • Upper respiratory tract infection
  • Previous dental procedures
  • Allergic reactions to food
  • Medications
  • Traumatic life events
  • Stress
  • Anxiety
  • Depression


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