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Burning Mouth Syndrome

(Glossodynia; Oral Dysesthesia)

By David F. Murchison, DDS, MMS

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Burning mouth syndrome (BMS) is intraoral pain, usually involving the tongue, in the absence of intraoral physical signs. There are no specific diagnostic tests, and treatment is symptomatic. BMS can be either idiopathic or caused by a disorder.

BMS usually affects postmenopausal women. It is believed to be neurogenic, affecting nerves of pain and taste. Causes of secondary BMS include

BMS may cause burning, tingling, or numbness of the tongue or other areas of the mouth, including the lips. Dry mouth or altered taste may occur. The pain may be constant or increase throughout the day and may be relieved by eating or drinking. Duration of symptoms of BMS is variable and may recur if the cause is not addressed.


Diagnosis requires oral symptoms as noted above and the absence of oral signs. Pain must occur for > 2 h/day for > 3 mo. There are no diagnostic tests for BMS. Idiopathic BMS is a diagnosis of exclusion; therefore, secondary causes should be sought.


  • Symptomatic treatment

  • Curative treatment for secondary BMS

Pain may be relieved with cold beverages, ice chips, chewing gum (sugarless), and by avoidance of irritants such as tobacco, spicy or acidic foods, and alcohol (in beverages and mouthwash). Tricyclic antidepressants, alpha-lipoic acid, clonazepam, and cognitive-behavioral therapy may sometimes help.

Secondary BMS may be cured by appropriate treatment of the underlying cause.

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