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Burning Mouth Syndrome

(Oral Dysesthesia; Burning Tongue)

By

Bernard J. Hennessy

, DDS, Texas A&M University, College of Dentistry

Last full review/revision May 2020| Content last modified May 2020
Click here for the Professional Version
NOTE: This is the Consumer Version. DOCTORS: Click here for the Professional Version
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Burning mouth syndrome is mouth pain, usually involving the tongue, in people who do not have any visible sores or abnormalities in their mouth.

  • Burning mouth syndrome probably represents a number of different conditions with different causes but a common symptom.

  • A burning, tingling, or numb sensation may affect the entire mouth or just the tongue and may be continuous or intermittent.

  • Doctors diagnose burning mouth syndrome on the basis of the person's symptoms and the absence of other more common causes of tongue discomfort.

  • Any underlying causes are treated.

  • Keeping the mouth moist often helps relieve the burning sensation.

Burning mouth syndrome occurs most commonly in women after menopause.

Burning mouth syndrome is not the same as the temporary discomfort that many people experience after eating irritating or acidic foods.

Causes

A number of disorders cause mouth pain. However, if people have mouth pain but do not have one of those disorders, or any visible abnormalities of their mouth, doctors call it burning mouth syndrome. Doctors think burning mouth syndrome probably involves a poorly understood abnormality in the nerves that control pain and taste.

Other disorders that can cause mouth pain include

Symptoms

A painful burning, tingling, or numbing sensation may affect the entire mouth (particularly the tongue, lips, and roof of the mouth) or just the tongue. The sensation may be continuous or intermittent, may gradually increase throughout the day, and may be relieved by eating or drinking. Other symptoms include

  • A dry mouth

  • Thirst

  • Altered taste

Possible consequences of the pain include changes in eating habits, irritability, depression, and avoidance of other people.

Diagnosis

  • A doctor's evaluation

A doctor or dentist reviews the person's medical history and dietary habits and examines the mouth. To make the diagnosis, pain must occur for > 2 hours a day for > 3 months. Doctors may do blood tests or other tests to check for certain other disorders known to cause burning mouth. For example, they may do a test to check the flow of saliva, to see if the person has dry mouth. Burning mouth syndrome is often difficult to diagnose because the tissue in the mouth also may appear normal in mild or early cases of mouth pain due to specific disorders.

Treatment

  • Measures to keep the mouth moist and relieve pain

  • Sometimes antidepressants or antianxiety drugs

If doctors find a cause of the mouth pain, they treat that.

Several measures help to reduce symptoms. Saliva substitutes, ice chips, frequent drinks of water, or use of chewing gum (sugarless) may help stimulate saliva and keep the mouth moist. Antidepressants, such as nortriptyline, or antianxiety drugs, such as clonazepam, are sometimes helpful for the emotional changes, but these drugs may make the pain symptoms worse by causing dry mouth. Capsaicin cream, gabapentin, and vitamin supplements (B and C) also may be helpful. Cognitive-behavioral therapy may sometimes help when other treatments do not. Sometimes symptoms disappear without treatment but may return.

More Information

NOTE: This is the Consumer Version. DOCTORS: Click here for the Professional Version
Click here for the Professional Version
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