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What Is Burning Mouth Syndrome (BMS)?

Burning mouth syndrome (BMS) is a rare and complex oral condition that produces a burning, tingling, and/or scalding feeling in the mouth. The effects can be mild, moderate, or severe. In addition, BMS can affect the tongue, palate, and other areas in your mouth. In most cases, the burning sensation comes on suddenly and is not triggered by an apparent cause. 

There are two types of burning mouth, including: 

Primary Burning Mouth Syndrome

This type of burning mouth is associated with taste problems and issues related to the central nervous system’s sensory nerves. 

Secondary Burning Mouth Syndrome

Unlike primary BMS, secondary burning mouth syndrome is usually caused by an underlying medical condition. This may include:

medication bottle with three pills graphic
Medication-Induced Dry Mouth

A mild oral condition when the salivary glands in the mouth do not generate enough saliva to keep your mouth wet. Medications taken for certain medical conditions, such as high blood pressure, can cause dry mouth and possibly BMS. Sjögren’s syndrome, chemotherapy, and radiation treatment are also associated with dry mouth.  

full mouth with ulcers on the gums graphic
Oral Thrush

Oral thrush (oral candidiasis) is a yeast infection resulting from an overgrowth of Candida fungus that lives in the mucous membranes lining in the mouth. The most common sign of thrush is white patches (lesions) that develop on the tongue, cheeks, lips, or palate. You may also experience soreness and redness around the lesion. In addition, a burning sensation on the tongue or around the lesion commonly occurs as well. 

 

Other causes include:

  • Hormonal changes that occur during menopause or if you have thyroid disease.
  • If you are allergic to certain dental materials, metals, or foods, you can develop BMS. 
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), also called acid reflux, which is when stomach acid irritates the esophagus. 
  • Diabetes and other metabolic disorders.
  • Bruxism (excessive teeth grinding), clenching, and tongue thrusting. Teeth grinding and clenching are associated with anxiety, which can also initiate BMS.
  • If you are deficient in certain vitamins, such as zinc, iron, folate, vitamin B1, vitamin B2, vitamin B6, and vitamin B12, you may develop BMS over time. 

There are only about 20,000 cases of burning mouth syndrome in the U.S. each year.

Symptoms of BMS

In addition to burning or scalding sensations in the mouth, BMS is often accompanied by other conditions, including:

dry mouth graphic

Dry Mouth

Dry mouth reduces your quality of life and affects simple day-to-day activities. If you have dry mouth, it can also worsen the burning sensation caused by BMS. Tasting, eating, speaking, and swallowing are also negatively impacted. In addition, untreated dry mouth can also lead to the widespread production of cavities or dental erosion

Other possible symptoms include:

  • Increased thirst levels.
  • Burning sensation affecting the tongue, palate, lips, or the entire oral cavity.
  • Loss of taste or altered taste.
  • Tingling or numbness in the mouth. 
  • A bitter or metallic taste in the mouth. 

Pain associated with BMS can last a long time. In addition, the pain may be constant or increase slowly throughout the day. However, eating or drinking often reduces the pain for many people. 

Prevention & Treatment for BMS

Burning mouth syndrome is a complex pain disorder that is difficult to diagnose. However, your doctor or dentist may recommend medical tests to check for any underlying conditions. This may include oral swabs, salivary flow tests, allergy tests, tissue biopsies, and imaging tests.

If you are diagnosed with BMS, there are ways to reduce the pain. For example, dentists recommend drinking cold beverages and sucking on ice chips. Avoiding substances that may irritate your mouth cause can also reduce the symptoms of BMS, including:

  • Spicy foods.
  • Alcoholic or highly acidic drinks, which includes liquor, beer, and wine. 
  • Mouthrinses that contain alcohol.
  • Citrus juices and fruits, such as oranges, lemons, and limes.