Feeling the Burn: Identifying Burning Mouth Syndrome

Burning mouth syndrome is a condition that affects about two percent of Americans, according to the American Academy of Oral Medicine. While two percent is not a huge number, and burning mouth syndrome itself is not dangerous, the condition may indicate a patient has a more serious health condition and should be mentioned at dental checkups for a further look.

Burning mouth syndrome sufferers experience the feeling of burning that is similar to how it feels after burning the mouth with a cup of scalding coffee or having a spoonful of too-hot soup. However, unlike those situations, the burning feeling of burning mouth syndrome never goes away. Other symptoms of the condition include dry mouth, numbness, tingling or a sandy, gritty feeling of in the mouth. Some patients also experience physical changes in their taste buds and have pain when eating or drinking.


While the cause of the condition has not been uncovered, dental researchers believe the disorder occurs when nerves found in the mouth and tongue stop sending information to the brain. As a result, the brain does not know when to turn off pain receptors, and patients are left with a feeling of constant burning. Other research regarding the condition points to a connection between the disorder and diabetes, which causes tissues to be inflamed.

Some patients experience burning mouth syndrome as a side effect of some medications, or from over ingestion of some nutritional supplements, like zinc. 

"Too much zinc will, in effect, burn the taste buds, and causes the patient to feel like their mouth is burning,"  Dr. Amy Norman, D.D.S., P.S. said. She's an Everett, Wash. dentist. 

Conversely, some researchers think that too little zinc causes burning mouth syndrome to develop. Other nutritional deficiencies thought to also contribute to the disorder include a lack of iron or the vitamin B12.

"Some patients with acid reflux disease also experience burning mouth syndrome because of their acid reflux condition, as stomach acid that comes up through the esophagus into the mouth will burn the tissues of the throat and tongue," Norman said. "Oral thrush, a form of yeast known as oral candidiasis, also causes a feeling of burning and dryness."

If a patient is experiencing the symptoms of burning mouth syndrome, they should schedule a checkup with their dentist. The dentist will perform a physical exam, and, after reviewing the patient’s health history, may refer them to a specialist for further investigation or examination. A specialist may order blood work for the patient to test for nutritional deficiencies, and other health conditions. The findings of bloodwork testing will help the physician and patient craft a treatment plan to lessen the symptoms of burning mouth syndrome, or cure the condition altogether. These treatments might include taking vitamins or other medications, testing blood sugar or changing oral hygiene products if those products were determined to contribute to the condition.

Some conditions may be treated by the dentist, such as oral thrush, or dry mouth. Oral thrush is treated through antifungal mouth rinses and limiting dietary sugars. Dry mouth is a serious condition that may lead to tooth decay and tooth loss. 

"Saliva has a very important role in the mouth. Not only does it break down food, but it also remineralizes teeth against decay," Norman said.

Staying hydrated will help to alleviate the symptoms of burning mouth syndrome for some patients, says Norman. Other self-care treatments that she recommends include avoiding the use of tobacco and nicotine products, as these products kill off the tissues of the mouth, and avoiding foods high in acid, foods that are spicy or foods that are extremely hot in temperature.

According to Norman, burning mouth syndrome is not something patients should just live with. 

"If a patient has a condition, odd bump or something else that is a cause of concern to them, they need to mention that to their dentist or physician to rule out anything serious, and at the very least, put their minds at ease," she said. 

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