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What is Burning Mouth Syndrome?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 17, 2024
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Burning mouth syndrome is an unusual condition that sometimes mystifies doctors and can be very frustrating and difficult for those affected. It can also be called burning lips or burning tongue. Scientific names for the condition include stomatodynia and glossodynia.

Symptoms of burning mouth syndrome may affect various parts of the mouth or the whole mouth. Areas affected can include the lips, tongue, palate, and/or throat and these may all exhibit a burning pain. The mouth can feel very dry, and may have a slight metallic taste. Some people lose all or part of their sense of taste. Other symptoms can include pain that worsens as the day progresses, pain especially at the tip of the tongue, and extra thirst. The condition can last for years but be characterized by periods of remission.

Cause can be hard to pinpoint but may result from dry mouth, as might be caused by taking certain medications regularly, nutritional deficits, low thyroid or other hormonal disorders, over brushing and sometimes by yeast infections. Occasionally conditions like depression or anxiety create burning mouth syndrome. When an underlying condition is the cause burning mouth syndrome is called secondary, but when no underlying conditions are found responsible it may be called primary burning mouth syndrome.

Diagnosis is usually made by looking for underlying causes, but there isn’t a single test to determine if the syndrome exists. Rather, doctors and dentists may diagnose the condition by process of elimination. Treatment for the condition will vary depending on cause and could include various medications or treatments for underlying conditions, which may resolve the problem. When no cause can be found, other drug treatments may be attempted to alleviate pain.

Though mouth pain wouldn’t seem like a debilitating condition, burning mouth syndrome that doesn’t improve with various treatments can be. People often benefit from support through pain management groups, and may additionally be helped by trying to lead as normal a life as possible and by engaging in stress relieving activities like tai chi chuan or yoga. Some people are helped by treatments and lead very normal, unimpaired lives.

It’s difficult to determine if there are any risk factors for burning mouth syndrome since the condition can result from so many things. People who have extra tastebuds and are called super tasters because their sense of taste is so acute may be slightly more at risk. No risks are exactly preventable, except tobacco use, which may greatly affect the mouth in a variety of ways.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By Stratocaster — On Jan 28, 2010

Ref burning mouth: I am male, 51, B12 deficient, requiring B12 shots every 12 weeks since I was about 45. I first had burning mouth about at 43 - 44 years, symptoms started with what were fissures between inner cheeks and lower gums, so bad I thought I was growing tusks.

After referral to an orthodontist it eventually led to B12. the symptoms did not really go away altogether with B12 supplement shots. I read about and started taking Alpha Lipoic Acid about 200mg/day as an extra supplement along with multivitamins, and things got worse before they got better for about a month then the burning mouth recurrences became less. I have continued ALA for quite a few years now and symptoms are milder, short lived for say, two days, and very infrequent.

I have lapsed in my ALA from time to time to my peril. All I can say is ALA works for me.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia...
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