Understanding Burning Mouth Syndrome

December 21, 2022

Summary: Burning mouth syndrome is a condition when one experiences pain in the mouth along with other signs and symptoms like altered taste sensation. The conditions tend to be chronic, causing pain for months. Dental issues are present in only one-third of cases. The condition poses diagnostic challenges. Additionally, burning mouth syndrome symptoms are also challenging to treat. Therefore, chronic pain treatment is best managed by dentists and pain medicine specialists.

Though toothaches are often the cause of chronic pain in the mouth or jaws, but not necessarily, burning Mouth Syndrome (BMS) is a relatively common condition causing chronic pain in the mouth. It is a condition that causes a burning and tingling sensation in the mouth almost every day for months or even longer. In addition, it may cause other issues like altered taste.

The burning mouth syndrome symptoms may be quite challenging to diagnose. Therefore, quite often, people would visit a dentist for chronic pain treatment. However, they may fail to experience pain relief, as the condition is rarely caused by dental health issues. Hence, the condition is better treated when dentists work with physicians or pain specialists.

What Causes BMS?

It is a complex disorder that occurs due to a range of causes. Many individuals may have so-called primary BMS, which occurs due to some damage to the nerves. Such a condition is challenging to diagnose for dentists or even physicians, though pain specialists can readily diagnose such issues.

Others are more likely to have secondary BMS that may occur due to multiple reasons like certain oral habits like tooth grinding, depression, hormonal changes, allergies, dry mouth, medications, nutritional deficiencies, mouth infections, and even acid reflux1.

As one can see, the condition may occur due to many reasons. In many patients, the conditions may occur due to multiple causes, thus making diagnosis and burning mouth treatment even more challenging.

Symptoms and Diagnosis of the Condition

Of course, the burning mouth syndrome symptoms include a burning sensation in the mouth and pain. However, it may also cause other symptoms like numbness, altered sensation, and more. Some may also experience a change in taste.

It is often a painful condition. The conditions may be quite distressing as the pain may last for months; thus, it is a chronic pain condition. The pain may be felt throughout the mouth and even on the lips. The condition causes chronic pain lasting for months and even years. Some people may experience pain relief while eating or drinking.

The condition is difficult to diagnose, as it occurs due to many reasons. About one-third of patients have a dental problem and habits like tooth grinding. In such cases, dentists are able to help well.

However, in many instances, dental health issues are absent. In such cases, doctors would need to carry out a range of medical tests, including blood tests, oral swab tests, allergy tests, imaging, and even tissue biopsy.

How do Doctors Treat BMS?

As one can see, BMS is not essentially a dental health problem. Dental issues are present in barely one-third of cases. Thus, the condition is best treated by dentists, physicians, and pain medicine specialists. Quite often, doctors would prescribe different drugs to treat pain. They may also recommend some topical pain-relieving agents.

Doctors would also need to exclude underlying health issues like neuropathies, diabetes, etc during the burning mouth treatment. The challenge in treating the condition is that what worked for one may not work for others. Apart from medications, pain medicine specialists would also recommend non-pharmacological treatments for managing such pain. Many individuals may benefit by avoiding irritants like tobacco, spicy food, alcohol, citrus fruits, and more.

By Gurpreet Singh Padda, MD, MBA, MHP