Burning Mouth Syndrome and Diabetes

Have you ever felt like your mouth was on fire? This painful sensation can make you feel as if you've scalded your mouth, and can spread to your tongue, gums, lips and inside of your cheeks. According to the Mayo Clinic, this condition is called burning mouth syndrome — it has no visible signs, and it can last from months to years. We do now know that burning mouth syndrome and diabetes can be related, so it's easier to diagnose and treat in diabetics. And it doesn't have to be a life sentence. Here are the common causes of burning mouth syndrome and how to treat them.

Possible Causes

There are many causes of burning mouth syndrome, and some people, such as diabetics and postmenopausal women, are more likely to suffer from it. According to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR), the most common causes include the following:

  • Damage to nerves controlling oral senses such as taste
  • Hormonal changes
  • Nutritional deficiencies
  • Fungal infections in the mouth
  • Acid reflux
  • Dentures that don't fit properly
  • Anxiety and depression

With so many possible causes, it's often difficult to clinically point out the culprit in many cases. People with uncontrolled or marginally controlled diabetes can usually narrow down the most probable causes to dry mouth, oral thrush and sometimes neurological abnormalities. Neuropathy (when nerve damage or weakness occurs to the hands and feet) may lead to oral tingling, burning or pain caused by changes in the nerves within the oral region as well.

Symptoms and Treatments

Moderate to severe burning in the mouth is one of the main symptoms of this disorder. For many people, the burning sensation begins in late morning, builds to a peak by evening, and often subsides at night. Some feel the pain constantly, but for others the pain is intermittent. Other symptoms can include dryness, soreness, tingling or numbness on the tip of the tongue or in the mouth, and bitter or metallic changes in taste.

When no underlying cause can be identified, treatments are still available to target your painful symptoms. These include the following:

  • Replacing irritating or ill-fitting dentures.
  • Treating existing disorders such as diabetes.
  • Recommending supplements for nutritional deficiencies.
  • Switching medications, when possible.
  • Prescribing medications to relieve dry mouth, oral candidiasis, control nerve damage pain, and to relieve anxiety and depression.

The Diabetic Connection

So how are burning mouth syndrome and diabetes related? Diabetics are more susceptible to oral infections such as dry mouth because of certain medications that zap the natural moisture that keeps the mouth clean of bacteria. They may also easily develop vascular changes that affect the small blood vessels in the mouth, lowering the threshold for pain.

As with any diabetic, maintaining blood sugar levels is key, and can help fight off symptoms or keep it from happening entirely. These improvements in glycemic control play a major role in reducing the occurrence of dry mouth and candidiasis, allowing you to focus on your daily routine without these unwanted oral complications.

Tips to Ease Burning Mouth Syndrome

To help ease the pain of burning mouth syndrome, the NIDCR suggests the following:

  • Sipping water frequently.
  • Sucking on ice chips.
  • Chewing sugarless gum.
  • Avoiding alcohol and tobacco products.
  • Avoiding irritating items such as hot or spicy foods, alcoholic mouthwashes and highly acidic fruits and juices.

You should consider changing your toothpaste and/or mouthwash to help manage or prevent your burning mouth syndrome. Switching to an alcohol-free mouthwash such as Colgate® Peroxyl® can help alleviate the sores associated with a sensitive mouth.

Unfortunately, the cause of burning mouth syndrome often can't be determined. Although this makes it more difficult to treat, you can still take control of the condition by following the above tips and the direction of your doctor. Talk with your dentist and doctor about the steps you can take to minimize the problems associated with burning mouth syndrome.

About the author: Diana Tosuni-O'Neill is a licensed registered dental hygienist in New York and New Jersey with over 25 years of clinical experience in dental hygiene practice. She was employed for over 15 years with the team dentist for the sports teams the New York Giants, the Brooklyn Nets and the New Jersey Devils. Diana is also an ACE Certified Personal Trainer and a Group Fitness Instructor. Her passion for the dental and fitness fields spans over two decades. She is also a freelance writer specializing in oral health care. She enjoys traveling, gardening, decorating and her fitness workouts. Diana presently resides outside Manhattan with her two children.

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