Burning mouth syndrome

Burning mouth syndrome (BMS) is a condition that causes a burning feeling in your mouth. The sensation can develop suddenly and occur anywhere in your mouth. It’s commonly felt on the roof of your mouth, tongue, and lips. This condition can become a chronic, everyday problem, or it may occur periodically. Understanding potential causes and treatment options for BMS can help you cope with the condition and find relief.

Symptoms of burning mouth syndrome

BMS can be mild or severe, and vary from person to person. Some people describe the burning feeling as comparable to the burning sensation of eating food that’s too hot. Others say that it feels scalding. In milder cases, BMS may cause slight tingling or numbness.
Symptoms of BMS can last for a lengthy period of time. Dealing with constant mouth pain for days, weeks, months, or years can make it difficult to eat or drink, although some people experience relief after eating and drinking.

Diagnosis

There’s no one test that can determine if you have burning mouth syndrome. Instead, your doctor will try to rule out other problems before diagnosing burning mouth syndrome. Your doctor or dentist likely will:

  • Review your medical history and medications
  • Examine your mouth
  • 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 dental work.
  • Salivary measurements. With burning mouth syndrome, your mouth may feel dry. Salivary tests can confirm whether you have a reduced salivary flow.
  • Gastric reflux tests. These tests can determine if you have GERD.
  • Imaging. Your doctor may recommend an MRI scan, a CT scan or other imaging tests to check for other health problems.
  • Medication adjustment. If you take a medication that may contribute to mouth discomfort, your doctor may change the dose, switch to a different medication, or temporarily stop the medication, 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.

Treatment

Treatment depends on whether you have primary or secondary burning mouth syndrome.

Secondary burning mouth syndrome

For secondary burning mouth syndrome, treatment depends on any underlying conditions that may be causing your mouth discomfort. For example, treating an oral infection 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.

Primary burning mouth syndrome

There’s no known cure for primary burning mouth syndrome and there’s 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. And it may take time for treatments to help manage symptoms. 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 to develop strategies to address anxiety and depression and cope with chronic pain.

Lifestyle and home remedies

In addition to medical treatment and prescription medications, these self-help measures may reduce your symptoms and your mouth discomfort:

  • 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 toothpastes, such as one for sensitive teeth or one without mint or cinnamon.

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