Burning mouth syndrome

Although burning mouth syndrome (BMS) is common and benign, it is also complex. It affects about 5% of Americans, and it occurs more frequently in women—especially post-menopausal women.

What are the symptoms?

BMS is characterized by a burning sensation that can occur in the mouth, on the tongue, or on the lips. The pain occurs without an obvious cause, and often without visible signs of irritation.

The sensation may feel as if the mouth, lips, or tongue has been burned with hot food or liquid. Dryness in the mouth, along with impaired taste, or altered taste (bitter, sour, or metallic) can also occur. Some patients report a crawling sensation in the mouth. Burning sensations are non-existent or less frequent upon awakening and increase throughout the day, worsening at night.

What causes burning mouth syndrome?

The exact cause of BMS is unknown. It is often preceded by—or occurs in conjunction with–menopause, diabetes, depression, chronic fatigue syndrome, anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress, nutritional deficiencies, or complications from radiation therapy or chemotherapy. Some research shows that nerve disorders or nerve damage may be a contributing factor. It is not uncommon for medical professionals to consider that multiple factors are contributing to BMS, or to find no contributing factors at all.

How is it diagnosed?

BMS is difficult to diagnose. There are oral inflammatory conditions or medical conditions that can cause the symptoms. A skilled dentist may take an oral swab or biopsy to rule out causes of burning or discomfort before a patient is diagnosed with burning mouth syndrome. You may also be referred to a medical doctor who will conduct blood tests and other tests to determine the cause of your symptoms.

How is it treated?

Although there is no cure for BMS, depending on the suspected cause of the symptoms, medication may be prescribed to alleviate pain, anxiety, depression, or whatever is considered to be a contributing factor. Your doctor will let you know if the prescribed medication can compromise your ability to drive or operate machinery. Ask your pharmacist how the medication may affect you.

If your case of BMS may be aggravated by stress, anxiety, depression, or some other mental or emotional issue, counseling, therapy, or relaxation techniques may be recommended.

How long will BMS last?

Within a few weeks to a few months of treatment, most patients experience partial relief. Some patients find that long-term symptoms last five to seven years, during which the burning sensation stabilizes or diminishes—sometimes to the point where there is no pain at all.

If you are experiencing irritation or a burning sensation in your mouth, or on your tongue or lips—and there is no apparent cause for it—schedule an appointment with your dentist for an examination.

This post is sponsored by Baton Rouge dentist Dr. Steven Collins of Sherwood Dental Care.