What is burning mouth syndrome?
Burning mouth syndrome is the medical term for ongoing (chronic) or recurrent burning in the mouth without an obvious cause. This discomfort may affect the tongue, gums, lips, inside of your cheeks, roof of your mouth or widespread areas of your whole mouth. The burning sensation can be severe, as if you scalded your mouth.
Burning mouth syndrome can appear suddenly or develop gradually over time. Unfortunately, the cause often can’t be determined. Although that makes treatment more challenging, you can often get burning mouth syndrome under better control by working closely with your health care team.
How common is burning mouth syndrome?
According to the American Academy of Oral Medicine (AAOM), BMS occurs in about 2 percent of the population. Women are more likely than men to receive a diagnosis of this condition. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.
What are the symptoms of burning mouth syndrome?
The common symptoms of burning mouth syndrome are:
- A burning or scalded 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
- Start as soon as you wake up and last all day
- 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. Some sensations may be temporarily relieved during eating or drinking.
Burning mouth syndrome usually doesn’t cause any noticeable physical changes to your tongue or mouth.
There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.
When should I see my doctor?
If you have any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consult with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.
What causes burning mouth syndrome?
The cause of burning mouth syndrome can be classified as either primary or secondary.
Primary burning mouth syndrome
When no clinical or lab abnormalities can be identified, the condition is called primary or idiopathic burning mouth syndrome. Some research suggests that primary burning mouth syndrome is related to problems with taste and sensory nerves of the peripheral or central nervous system.
Secondary burning mouth syndrome
Sometimes burning mouth syndrome is 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 (xerostomia), which can be caused by various medications, health problems, problems with salivary gland function or the side effects of cancer treatment
- Other oral conditions, such as a fungal infection of the mouth (oral thrush), an inflammatory condition called oral lichen planus or a condition called geographic tongue that gives the tongue a map-like appearance
- Nutritional deficiencies, such as a lack of iron, zinc, folate (vitamin B-9), thiamin (vitamin B-1), riboflavin (vitamin B-2), pyridoxine (vitamin B-6) and cobalamin (vitamin B-12)
- Dentures, especially if they don’t fit well, which can place stress on some muscles and tissues of your mouth, or if they contain materials that irritate mouth tissues
- Allergies or reactions to foods, food flavorings, other food additives, fragrances, dyes or dental-work substances
- Reflux of stomach acid (gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD) that enters your mouth from your stomach
- Certain medications, particularly high blood pressure medications
- Oral habits, such as tongue thrusting, biting the tip of the tongue and teeth grinding (bruxism)
- Endocrine disorders, such as diabetes or underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism)
- Excessive mouth irritation, which may result from overbrushing your tongue, using abrasive toothpastes, overusing mouthwashes or having too many acidic drinks
- Psychological factors, such as anxiety, depression or stress
What increases my risk for burning mouth syndrome?
There are many risk factors for burning mouth syndrome, such as:
- Being a woman
- Being postmenopausal
- Being 50
- Recent illness
- Previous dental procedures
- Wearing dentures
- Allergic reactions to food
- Traumatic life events
Diagnosis & treatment
The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.
How is burning mouth syndrome diagnosed?
There’s no one test that can determine if you have burning mouth syndrome. Instead, your doctor or dentist will try to rule out other problems before diagnosing burning mouth syndrome.
Your doctor or dentist will review your medical history and medications, examine your mouth, and ask you to describe your symptoms, oral habits and oral care routine. In addition, your doctor will likely perform a general medical exam, looking for signs of other conditions.
You may have some of the following tests:
- Blood tests. Blood tests can check your complete blood count, glucose level, thyroid function, nutritional factors and immune functioning, all of which may provide clues about the source of your mouth discomfort.
- Oral cultures or biopsies. Taking and analyzing samples from your mouth can determine whether you have a fungal, bacterial or viral infection.
- Allergy tests. Your doctor may suggest allergy testing to see if you may be allergic to certain foods, additives or even substances in dentures.
- Salivary measurements. With burning mouth syndrome, you may feel that you have a dry mouth. Salivary tests can confirm whether you have a reduced salivary flow.
- Gastric reflux tests. These tests can determine if you have GERD.
- Your doctor may recommend an MRI, CT scan or other imaging tests to check for other health problems.
- Temporarily stopping medication. If you take medications that may contribute to mouth discomfort, your doctor may suggest temporarily stopping them, if possible, to see if your discomfort goes away. Don’t try this on your own, because it can be dangerous to stop some medications.
- Psychological questionnaires. You may be asked to fill out questionnaires that can help determine if you have symptoms of depression, anxiety or other mental health conditions.
How is burning mouth syndrome treated?
For secondary burning mouth syndrome, treatment depends on any underlying conditions that may be causing your mouth discomfort.
For example, replacing poorly fitting dentures or taking supplements for a vitamin deficiency may relieve your discomfort. That’s why it’s important to try to pinpoint the cause. Once any underlying causes are treated, your burning mouth syndrome symptoms should get better.
There’s no known cure for primary burning mouth syndrome and no one sure way to treat it. Solid research on the most effective methods is lacking. Treatment depends on your particular symptoms and is aimed at controlling them. You may need to try several treatment methods before finding one or a combination that helps reduce your mouth discomfort.
Treatment options may include:
- Saliva replacement products
- Specific oral rinses or lidocaine
- Capsaicin, a pain reliever that comes from chili peppers
- An anticonvulsant medication called clonazepam (Klonopin)
- Certain antidepressants
- Medications that block nerve pain
- Cognitive behavioral therapy
Lifestyle changes & home remedies
What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage burning mouth syndrome?
The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with burning mouth syndrome:
- Drink plenty of fluids to help ease the feeling of dry mouth, or suck on ice chips
- Avoid acidic foods and liquids, such as tomatoes, orange juice, carbonated beverages and coffee
- Avoid alcohol and products with alcohol, as they may irritate the lining of your mouth
- Don’t use tobacco products
- Avoid spicy-hot foods
- Avoid products with cinnamon or mint
- Try different mild or flavor-free brands of toothpaste, such as one for sensitive teeth or one without mint or cinnamon
- Take steps to reduce stress
If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
Burning mouth syndrome. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/burning-mouth-syndrome/home/ovc-20179959. Accessed August 25, 2017.
Burning Mouth Syndrome (BMS). http://www.medicinenet.com/burning_mouth_syndrome/article.htm. Accessed August 25, 2017.
What Is Burning Mouth Syndrome? http://www.healthline.com/health/burning-mouth-syndrome#overview1. Accessed August 25, 2017.
Review Date: September 6, 2017 | Last Modified: September 6, 2017