Burning mouth syndrome (BMS) is a condition that causes a burning feeling in your mouth. The sensation can develop suddenly and occur anywhere in your mouth. It’s commonly felt on the roof of your mouth, tongue, and lips. This condition can become a chronic, everyday problem, or it may occur periodically.
Understanding potential causes and treatment options for BMS can help you cope with the condition and find relief. According to the American Academy of Oral Medicine (AAOM), BMS occurs in about 2 percent of the population. Women are more likely than men to receive a diagnosis of this condition.
BMS can be mild or severe, and vary from person to person. Some people describe the burning feeling as comparable to the burning sensation of eating food that’s too hot. Others say that it feels scalding. In milder cases, BMS may cause slight tingling or numbness.
Symptoms of BMS can last for a lengthy period of time. Dealing with constant mouth pain for days, weeks, months, or years can make it difficult to eat or drink, although some people experience relief after eating and drinking.
There isn't one specific cause of BMS. There are two types of the condition, depending on the cause:
Primary burning mouth syndrome
Primary BMS means there is no identifiable cause. Burning mouth can be a symptom of many illnesses or diseases. As a result, diagnosing this condition is difficult and often a matter of exclusion. For an accurate diagnosis, your doctor may run the following tests to check for abnormalities:
- blood test
- oral swab
- allergy test
- salivary flow test
If an underlying illness doesn’t cause BMS, your doctor may make a diagnosis of primary BMS. This is burning mouth without an identifiable cause.
Secondary burning mouth syndrome
Secondary BMS, on the other hand, has a clear, identifiable cause. This can vary from person to person. Possible causes include:
- hormonal changes
- dry mouth
- nutritional deficiency, such as iron, zinc, or B vitamin deficiency
- mouth infection
- acid reflux
BMS is more common in older women, particularly menopausal women. It can also affect premenopausal women. According to one study, BMS is seen in 18 to 33 percent of postmenopausal women.
The cause behind developing BMS is primarily due to a hormone imbalance, or more specifically, a drop in estrogen levels. This hormone decrease can reduce saliva production, cause a metallic taste in the mouth, and trigger a burning sensation in the mouth. Some menopausal women also experience greater sensitivity to pain.
Since there’s a link between BMS and reduced estrogen levels, hormone replacement therapy (HRT) may relieve symptoms in menopausal women, although more studies are needed to evaluate how effective this therapy is.
Treatment for secondary BMS
If your doctor finds that there’s a specific medical condition causing your BMS, stopping the burning sensation involves treating the underlying health problem. Some of these include:
- Acid reflux: Medication to neutralize stomach acid may help relieve symptoms of BMS.
- Dry mouth: If you have dry mouth, ask your doctor about products to increase saliva production, or take vitamin shots or supplements for a vitamin deficiency.
- Mouth infection: You doctor can also prescribe medication to treat an underlying oral infection, or a pain reliever.
Treatment for primary BMS
If you don’t have an underlying health problem, BMS usually resolves on its own. In the meantime, take these steps to ease symptoms:
- Suck on small ice chips throughout the day to lessen the burning sensation.
- Drink or sip cold liquids throughout the day to relieve mouth pain. Some people experience relief after drinking.
- Avoid acidic foods, like citrus fruits.
- Avoid food and drinks that worsen or trigger the burning sensation. Limit your consumption of hot beverages and spicy foods. Monitor your symptoms after smoking or consuming alcohol. Both actions can worsen BMS. Keep in mind that medications containing alcohol can also worsen symptoms.
- Change your toothpaste. If burning worsens after brushing your teeth, switch to a toothpaste specifically for people with mouth sensitivities, or use baking soda as a toothpaste or mouth rinse. Dissolve a spoonful of baking soda in lukewarm water and rinse your mouth to neutralize acid and cool the burning sensation.
- Stay active and practice relaxation techniques to reduce stress, like yoga, exercise, and meditation.