Burning Sensation in Mouth May Point to More Serious Conditions

Burning mouth syndrome is a painful and often frustrating condition. Some patients compare it to having burned their mouth with hot coffee.

The burning sensation may affect the tongue, the roof of the mouth, the gums, the inside of the cheeks and the back of the mouth or throat. The condition sometimes is known as "burning tongue (or lips) syndrome," "scalded mouth syndrome," "glossodynia" and "stomatodynia."

The exact cause of burning mouth syndrome often is difficult to pinpoint. The disorder has long been linked to a variety of other conditions: menopause, diabetes, nutritional deficiencies, tongue thrusting, disorders of the mouth, acid reflux, cancer therapy and psychological problems.

Once burning mouth syndrome begins, it may persist for many years. Patients who have it may awaken with no pain only to find that the burning sensation grows progressively worse during the day. They may have difficulty falling asleep. The discomfort and restlessness may cause mood changes, irritability, anxiety and depression.

Your dentist can confirm the diagnosis and develop an appropriate treatment plan. The dentist will review your medical history and ask you to describe your symptoms.

First, any oral conditions causing the burning sensations should be investigated. For example, if you have dry mouth, your dentist may advise that you drink more fluids or may suggest saliva-replacement products that can be purchased at a pharmacy. An oral swab or biopsy may be used to check for thrush, which is a fungal infection; thrush can be treated with oral antifungal medications. Any irritations caused by sharp or broken teeth or by a removable partial or full denture should be eliminated.

Other simple measures may help. Eliminate mouthwash, chewing gum, tobacco and very acidic liquids (certain fruit juices, soft drinks and coffee) for two weeks to see if there is any improvement.

If your dentist determines that no oral conditions are causing the burning sensation and the steps listed above do not resolve the problem, disorders such as diabetes, abnormal thyroid conditions, Sjögren’s syndrome (a rheumatological disorder), mineral deficiencies or food allergies should be investigated.

Please contact the ADA if you have questions about this article.

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