Burning Mouth Syndrome

Burning mouth syndrome is the medical term for ongoing or recurring burning in the mouth without an obvious cause. It can affect your tongue, gums, lips, inside of your cheeks, roof of your mouth or large areas of your whole mouth. The feeling of burning can be severe, as if you injured your mouth with a very hot drink. Burning mouth syndrome often comes on suddenly, but it can develop slowly over time. Often the specific cause cannot be found.

Symptoms of burning mouth syndrome may include:

  • A burning or scalding feeling that most commonly affects your tongue, but also may affect your lips, gums, roof of your mouth, throat or whole mouth
  • A feeling of dry mouth with increased thirst
  • Taste changes in your mouth, such as a bitter or metallic taste
  • Loss of taste
  • Tingling, stinging or numbness in your mouth

It can occur every day, with little discomfort when waking up, but become worse as the day goes on, or it can start as soon as you wake up and last all day. The symptoms may even come and go. Whatever pattern of mouth discomfort you have, burning mouth syndrome can last from months to years. Burning mouth syndrome usually doesn’t cause any physical changes to your tongue or mouth that can be seen.

Causes

The cause of burning mouth syndrome may be primary or secondary. When the cause can’t be found, the condition is called primary or idiopathic burning mouth syndrome. Some research suggests that primary burning mouth syndrome is related to problems with the nerves involved with taste and pain.

Secondary burning mouth syndrome can sometimes be caused by an underlying medical condition. In these cases, it’s called secondary burning mouth syndrome. Underlying problems that may be linked to secondary burning mouth syndrome include:

  • Dry mouth, which can be caused by some medicines, health problems, problems with the glands that make saliva or the side effects of cancer treatment
  • Other oral conditions, such as a fungal infection of the mouth called oral thrush, an inflammatory condition called oral lichen planus or a condition called geographic tongue that gives the tongue a map like appearance
  • Not getting enough nutrients, such as a lack of iron, zinc, folate (vitamin B-9), thiamine (vitamin B-1), riboflavin (vitamin B-2), pyridoxine (vitamin B-6) and cobalamin (vitamin B-12)
  • Allergies or reactions to foods, food flavourings, other food additives, fragrances or dyes, or mouth care products
  • Reflux of stomach acid that enters your mouth from your stomach, also called gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • Certain medicines, especially high blood pressure medicines
  • Oral habits, such as pushing your tongue against your teeth, biting the tip of your tongue, and grinding or clenching your teeth
  • Endocrine disorders, such as diabetes or an underactive thyroid known as hypothyroidism
  • A very irritated mouth, which may result from brushing your tongue too much or too hard, using abrasive toothpastes, overusing mouthwashes, or having too many acidic foods or drinks
  • Dentures that don’t fit well may cause irritation that can make symptoms worse
  • Psychological issues, such as anxiety, depression, or stress
  • Perimenopause menopause or even if you’re postmenopausal

Burning mouth syndrome usually starts suddenly, for no known reason. But certain factors may increase your risk of developing burning mouth syndrome, including:

  • Recent illness
  • Some long-term medical conditions such as fibromyalgia, Parkinson’s disease, autoimmune disorders, and neuropathy
  • Allergic reactions to food
  • Certain medicines
  • Traumatic life events
  • Stress
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Menopause
  • Being over 50 years of age

Complications

Complications that burning mouth syndrome may cause are mainly related to discomfort, such as problems falling asleep or difficulty eating. Long-term cases involving a lot of discomfort also could lead to anxiety or depression.

Prevention

There is no known way to prevent burning mouth syndrome. You may be able to reduce your discomfort by not using tobacco, limiting acidic or spicy foods, not drinking carbonated beverages, sipping water often, sucking on crushed ice and chewing sugar-free gum to help you produce more saliva which helps to stop your mouth getting dry. Other therapies can include relaxation, yoga, meditation, and hypnotherapy, as they have been found to help some people cope with anxiety. These measures will not rid you of burning mouth syndrome but may prevent your discomfort from feeling worse.

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