Burning Mouth Syndrome

Overview

What is burning mouth syndrome?

Burning mouth syndrome (BMS) is a condition that causes pain and discomfort in the mouth, lips or tongue. If there is no clear cause for this pain, it is called primary BMS. When the pain is caused by an underlying problem, it is called secondary BMS.

Both men and women can get BMS, but it is more common in women than men. It is especially common in women during or after menopause.

Symptoms

What are the symptoms of BMS?

People who have BMS often feel like they burned their mouth with a hot liquid. They may also have a dry or sore mouth, or a bitter or metallic taste in their mouth. Some people who have BMS feel pain constantly. For other people, the pain comes and goes. The pain of BMS may be mild in the morning and get worse during the day.

Causes & Risk Factors

What causes BMS?

Researchers think one possible cause of BMS is a problem in the nerves that control taste and pain in the tongue. Other possible causes of burning mouth pain include the following:

Certain medical conditions, such as acid reflux, may also cause burning mouth pain.

Depression and anxiety are common in people who have BMS, but it is not known whether these problems cause BMS or if the ongoing pain of BMS leads to depression and anxiety.

  • Nutritional deficiencies
  • Contact allergies to foods, food flavorings or other food additives
  • Certain medicines
  • Hormonal changes during menopause
  • Dry mouth

Diagnosis & Tests

How can my doctor tell if I have BMS?

There is no simple way to test for BMS. Your doctor will examine your mouth and ask about your medical history to find out what might be causing a burning feeling. Your doctor may also need to do some tests to find out what is causing your symptoms. If no cause can be found, you may have primary BMS.

Treatment

How is BMS usually treated?

Treatment will depend on what is causing your mouth pain. If your doctor can identify a specific problem that is causing your symptoms, treating that problem may relieve your pain. For example, symptoms caused by an oral yeast infection called thrush can be treated with an oral antifungal medicine. Saliva replacement products can relieve dry mouth. If you have a nutritional deficiency, your doctor may recommend that you take B vitamins, iron, folate, or zinc supplements.

If your doctor can’t find a cause for your symptoms, he or she will focus on trying to relieve your pain and discomfort. Certain medicines, including some used to treat depression and anxiety, are also used to treat BMS. It is not clear why these medicines help. They may affect how the nerves in your mouth work. Fortunately, 30 percent to 50 percent of people with BMS improve on their own, so you may get better even without treatment.

What can I do to feel better?

The following are tips for relieving the symptoms of BMS:

  • Drink plenty of liquids.
  • Suck on ice chips.
  • Avoid hot, spicy foods.
  • Avoid mouthwashes that contain alcohol.
  • Switch to a different brand of toothpaste.
  • Avoid foods and drinks that are high in acid, like citrus fruits, soda and coffee.
  • Avoid alcohol and tobacco products.

Questions to Ask Your Doctor

  • Is there anything I can do to get rid of the taste in my mouth?
  • I’m having trouble sleeping because of the pain. What should I do?
  • Could a different toothpaste help me with the pain and taste in my mouth?
  • Should I take any vitamin supplements to help with the pain?
  • Is something I’m eating causing the problem?
  • What changes should I make to my diet?
  • I’ve had dry mouth for several years. Am I at higher risk of developing burning mouth syndrome?
  • When I’m past menopause, will the burning mouth syndrome go away on its own?

Citations