Burning mouth syndrome, or BMS, is a condition where the sufferer experiences a burning pain or feeling of heat inside the mouth, either in one small part or across more of it.
The tongue, inner lips, and the roof of the mouth can all be affected, even when there is no obvious cause for the discomfort.
The level of pain can vary, with some patients saying it can feel as bad as having scalding water inside the mouth, while others feel only a numbness or tingling. For most people, the level is somewhere in between and can get better or worse at different times. Burning mouth syndrome is also known by its medical term, glossodynia.
What Causes Burning Mouth Syndrome?
Despite the feelings of burning, the affected areas will not actually be suffering any physical damage, as BMS is a result of nerve signals from the mouth being misinterpreted by the brain.
No one is sure why exactly this happens, but it can often happen alongside hormone changes, nutritional deficiencies, psychological problems including stress or anxiety, or even allergic reactions to toothpastes or mouthwashes.
In rarer cases, BMS can show up as a symptom of medical ailments including diabetes, thyroid problems, or fungal infections. It can also appear as part of the menopause, although anyone at any time of life can be afflicted by it.
Is It Dangerous?
BMS is almost always a symptom of other problems rather than a disease in itself, and so how much danger it presents is down to the severity of its cause. If you experience it, you should always seek treatment.
In most cases it will be a distressing yet ultimately harmless condition, but more serious underlying illnesses certainly need to be ruled out.
One thing to bear in mind though is that any long term pain is wearying and can lead to depression, so many patients take low doses of prescribed or over-the-counter anti-depressants if they find the toll of BMS becoming hard to bear.
How is It Treated?
In all cases, a visit to your dentist should be the first port of call, who may refer you to a doctor if no dental problem is uncovered. If an underlying dental or medical cause can be found, then treating this can usually alleviate the BMS. Examples can include improving diet or taking nutritional supplements, or using medication to treat a fungal infection. If no reason for the BMS is discovered, pain relief may be tried but is not always effective.
In day-to-day life, symptoms can be eased by taking regular sips of cold water, sucking on ice cubes, or using sugar-free gum to increase saliva levels. Many patients also find yoga or other relaxation techniques can be of help, and as mentioned, sometimes anti-depressant medication becomes advisable.
How Long Will It Last?
Unfortunately this is an impossible question to answer as there are so many causes of BMS, both known and unknown. For some people, effective therapy means it can be brought under control or even eliminated within months, while for others it is a long term or even, unfortunately, permanent condition. In either case, your dentist or doctor will work with you over time to find the best ways of limiting and coping with the symptoms.
Watch this Howcast video to see a common plan of action for BMS…
Burning mouth syndrome is a distressing and usually painful condition, made all the more troublesome by the lack of obvious causes or easy treatment. However, it is a condition that’s very well known by dentists, who can use their skill and experience to minimize its effects, hopefully cure it, and help you get back to living a life that isn’t dominated by mouth pain.