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Burning Mouth Syndrome

(Oral Dysesthesia)

By David F. Murchison, DDS, MMS

Burning mouth syndrome is mouth pain, often involving the tongue, that may be burning or tingling in people who do not have any visible sores or abnormalities in their mouth.

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

  • The burning 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.

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

Burning mouth syndrome is not the same as the temporary discomfort that many people experience after eating irritating or acidic foods. Burning mouth syndrome occurs most commonly in women after menopause. The tongue is the part of the mouth most commonly affected (pain in the tongue is termed glossodynia).

Causes

Burning mouth syndrome is poorly understood. It probably represents a number of different conditions with different causes (such as vitamin or iron deficiency) but a common symptom. Some experts believe that burning mouth syndrome is caused by damage to the nerves that control pain and taste.

Symptoms

A painful burning sensation may affect the entire mouth (particularly the tongue, lips, and roof of the mouth [palate]) or just the tongue. The sensation may be continuous or intermittent and may gradually increase throughout the day. Symptoms that commonly accompany the burning sensation include

  • A dry mouth

  • Thirst

  • Altered taste

Possible consequences 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, dietary habits, and examines the mouth. They may do blood tests to check for certain disorders. They may do a test to check the flow of saliva.

Treatment

  • Measures to keep the mouth moist

  • Sometimes antidepressants

The condition is easy for doctors to diagnose but difficult to treat. Saliva substitutes, frequent drinks of water, or use of chewing gum may help stimulate saliva and keep the mouth moist. Antidepressants, such as nortriptyline, or antianxiety drugs, such as clonazepam, are sometimes helpful, although these drugs may make the symptoms worse by causing dry mouth. Sometimes symptoms disappear without treatment but may return.

Drugs Mentioned In This Article

  • Generic Name
    Select Brand Names
  • KLONOPIN
  • AVENTYL

* This is the Consumer Version. *