Burning Mouth Syndrome

Burning Mouth Syndrome (BMS) is a painful and often frustrating condition — some people compare it to having burned their mouth with hot coffee. According to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR), BMS symptoms include a burning, tingling sensation that may affect the tongue, the roof of the mouth, the gums, the inside of the cheeks, and the back of the mouth or throat. This condition is also known as "burning tongue syndrome," "scalded mouth syndrome," "glossodynia," and "stomatodynia."

Once burning tongue syndrome begins, it can persist from short durations of time up to many years. While anyone can be affected, a BMS diagnosis is more prevalent in women during and after menopause. Individuals afflicted with BMS may wake up with no symptoms only to find painful, burning sensations grow progressively worse throughout the day. Additional symptoms of BMS may include dry mouth, altered taste, difficulty sleeping, mood changes, anxiety, and depression.

But don't fret; your dentist/physician can evaluate you, take a thorough history, and review your symptoms to help establish a diagnosis. Then you and your healthcare provider can work together to implement the most appropriate treatment solutions.

Types of Burning Mouth Syndrome

There are two types of BMS, primary and secondary.

  1. Primary BMS presents with no underlying medical conditions or apparent cause. Because primary BMS is often diagnosed in the absence of any clinical signs, it's characterized as "idiopathic" and can often be frustrating for the patient.

  2. Secondary BMS is related to an underlying disease such as diabetes. It will be helpful for your dentist/physician to conduct a diagnosis and differentiate this condition from dry mouth (also known as xerostomia).

The following are some of the minor causes of burning tongue syndrome:

1. Dry Mouth

When your mouth does not have enough saliva, you get that dry, uncomfortable, sticky feeling known as dry mouth (xerostomia). This is an oral condition caused by different factors, such as diseases that affect the salivary glands, over 600 medications, or natural hormonal changes. Chronic dry mouth can contribute to burning, tingling or sensation, or soreness in your mouth.

2. Nutritional Deficiencies

Nutritional deficiencies may also contribute to your symptoms. Deficiencies of vitamin B and minerals, such as iron and zinc, can contribute to a burnt tongue sensation. Ensure you're eating a well-balanced diet, including fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, dairy, nuts, seeds, and healthy proteins. Talk to your doctor before taking nutritional supplements.

3. Mouth Irritation

Acidic beverages such as soft drinks, hot spicy foods, overzealous brushing of your tongue, and overusing your mouthwash can irritate your mouth. If you're experiencing a burning sensation in your mouth, try to drink fewer irritating beverages. Talk to your dental professional about your oral hygiene habits to see if they could be the culprit of the irritation.

4. Medication Side Effects

One of the possible causes of the burning tongue is the use of certain medications associated with dry mouth and burning tongue syndrome. These medications include anti-depressants and ACE inhibitors. Interestingly, antidepressants are sometimes used to treat BMS, so check with your medical professional before making any changes to your medication regimen. Some drugs may cause soreness and dryness of the mouth. Inform your dental or medical professional if you're experiencing side effects due to medications.

5. Oral Conditions

The burning tongue feeling can also be caused by another oral health condition, known as candidiasis or thrush (a fungal infection in the mouth) or geographic tongue (a condition where the surface of your tongue develops a map-like appearance).

Geographic tongue is not associated with any long-term health conditions but can sometimes become inflamed and painful. Your dental professional can diagnose and provide options to reduce the pain and discomfort.

Other Possible Causes for Burning Mouth/Tongue

While some of the possible causes of burning tongue are easier to identify, others are hard to pinpoint. If your dental professional determines that no apparent conditions are causing burning mouth symptoms, discuss your medical history with your physician.

A comprehensive medical examination will review whether any underlying diseases may be contributing to your symptoms. This includes diabetes, thyroid disease, Sjogren's syndrome, or other conditions associated with menopause, allergies, or acid reflux.

Ill-fitting dentures can irritate mouth tissues. If you feel the burning sensation is stemming from your gums or places where your dentures come in contact with your cheeks or roof of your mouth, you can ask your prosthodontist to review your fit to see if that might be the issue.

Did your burned gum feeling start soon after switching to a new toothpaste or mouthwash? A mouthwash containing alcohol, for example, can dry the inside of your mouth and cause a burning sensation in the gum tissue, tongue, or other areas. It's also possible to develop an allergic reaction to an ingredient in the toothpaste or other oral product.

If you suspect your toothpaste or mouthwash is the culprit, try switching back to your previous product and see if the sensation goes away. When in doubt, ask your dental professional for advice.

How to Soothe Burning Tongue Syndrome

An accurate diagnosis of the underlying cause of your pain or discomfort is vital to determining appropriate treatment. It's best to work with your medical professional for guidance on the best treatment for your specific health history and condition.

According to the Genetic and Rare Disease Information Center (GARD), solutions to ease burning tongue symptoms may include:

  • Avoid irritants for two weeks to see if there is any improvement, including mouthwash with alcohol, chewing gum, smoking and tobacco, acidic liquids, spicy foods, soft drinks, and coffee.

  • Consider over-the-counter options, including pain relief, saliva replacement products, or topical capsaicin.

  • Try at-home options to confront dehydration and dry mouth like drinking plenty of water, sucking on ice chips (be sure not to chew for your teeth), or chewing sugar-free gum that promotes saliva production.

  • Your medical professional may prescribe medication to help manage your symptoms or address their underlying cause. These typically include anticonvulsants, B vitamins, oral thrush medications, and select antidepressants.

Helpful tip: Be sure to consult your medical or dental professional if your symptoms do not improve.

Be sure not to ignore your symptoms; no one deserves to live in discomfort. Your dental and medical professionals are there to help identify what's going on and find options to manage your pain or treat its underlying causes. You're not informed on Burning Mouth Syndrome, its causes, and what your best options to deal with it are.

This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.


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What's behind your smile?

Take our Oral Health assessment to get the most from your oral care routine


2.3 billion

people worldwide suffer from tooth decay