We’ve all done it. Unable to wait, you’ve taken a swig of “too hot” coffee or a bite out of a steaming slice of pizza only to experience a scalded tongue and roof of your mouth. The fallout of pain or peeling skin on the roof of your mouth reminds you to wait longer next time before diving in and with a little patience, your mouth will be good as new. But what about the sensation of a burning mouth when no hot coffee or pizza is to blame? If you experience pain or burning on your tongue or roof of your mouth, you may have burning mouth syndrome.

What is Burning Mouth Syndrome?

Burning mouth syndrome is also known as glossodynia, stomatodynia, burning tongue syndrome, burning lips syndrome, scalded mouth syndrome and labelled BMS for short. It involves discomfort and pain affecting the soft tissues inside your mouth including the lining of your cheek, your tongue, lips and palate.

About Burning Mouth Syndrome

There are two types of BMS. Primary BMS correlates to the sensory and taste nerves of the central nervous system whereas secondary BMS is typically caused by an associated medical condition.

BMS can affect men but more often affects middle-aged to older women during perimenopause or post menopause with symptoms ranging from mild to quite extreme, lasting for months and even years.

Sensations of numbness, stinging or tingling occur along with possible additional symptoms including feeling thirsty or having a dry mouth, a metallic or bitter taste, or even an inability to taste foods.

Interestingly, symptoms may develop over time or occur suddenly, and often see an arc in severity, starting when you wake or at the tail end of the morning, and increasing to a high point by the evening, and diminishing afterwards. The pains of BMS also tends to be intermittent which causes the sufferer to wonder if it is something that they have ingested.

Severe symptoms may interfere with eating and sleep and potentially lead to anxiety and depression and need to be addressed.

Unfortunately, it is rare for symptoms to begin appearing less frequently or vanish on their own.

What Causes Burning Mouth Syndrome?

There is no one single definitive cause of BMS. In fact, the origin of this uncomfortable problem can be unknown or as a result of several, often medically-related reasons as follows:

  • Cancer treatment
  • Certain medications, such as high blood pressure medications
  • Injury or damage to nerves in the mouth that sense pain or taste
  • Dry mouth which may be caused by impaired salivary gland function due to other conditions
  • Allergies or sensitivities to certain foods, food additives, dyes, fragrances or dental materials
  • Endocrine issues – underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism) or diabetes
  • GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease)
  • Hormonal imbalances or fluctuations
  • Sjögren’s Syndrome – as it affects the glands that produce saliva
  • Vitamin & mineral deficiencies – (Vit. B12 (cobalamin), Vit. B9 (folate/folic acid), iron, Vit. B6 (pyridoxine), Vit. B2 (riboflavin), Vit B1 (thiamin), Zinc)
  • Oral conditions – geographic tongue, oral lichen planus or oral thrush (oral candidiasis)
  • Oral habits – biting the tip of the tongue, grinding of the teeth and tongue thrusting.
  • Poorly fitting dentures that cause irritation to the soft tissues of the mouth
  • Psychological issues – anxiety, depression or stress
  • Harsh tongue brushing or toothpastes with abrasives

Treatments for Burning Mouth Syndrome

If you have determined without a doubt that your pain was not the result of an overeager appetite, and it lasts longer than 10 days, you should consult your dentist. Your family dentist will perform an oral examination, medical history review, order bloodwork and take an oral swab to rule out oral thrush and to determine the cause of your discomfort and properly diagnose you.

While there is no proven cure, there are many things you can avoid to minimize the burning sensation:

  • Acidic beverages and foods
  • Alcoholic beverages
  • Caffeine (coffee, tea, chocolate)
  • Carbonated beverages
  • Spicy foods and beverages
  • Cinnamon or mint based toothpastes, gums & mouthwash
  • Tobacco
  • Stress

After seeing the dentist, making these lifestyle changes is a good place to start. Denture wearers may benefit from replacing old, ill-fitting dental dentures or considering dental implants and allergy testing can also be a great way to rule out the source.