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Burning mouth syndrome

Medically reviewed by Drugs.com. Last updated on Feb 22, 2023.

Overview

Burning mouth syndrome is the medical term for ongoing or recurring burning in the mouth without an obvious cause. You may feel this burning on your tongue, gums, lips, inside of your cheeks, roof of your mouth or large areas of your whole mouth. The feeling of burning can be severe, as if you injured your mouth with a very hot drink.

Burning mouth syndrome usually comes on suddenly, but it can develop slowly over time. Often the specific cause can't be found. Although that makes treatment more challenging, working closely with your health care team can help you reduce symptoms.

Symptoms

Symptoms of burning mouth syndrome may include:

The discomfort from burning mouth syndrome can have several different patterns. It may:

Whatever pattern of mouth discomfort you have, burning mouth syndrome may last for months to years. In rare cases, symptoms may suddenly go away on their own or happen less often. Sometimes the burning feeling may be briefly relieved during eating or drinking.

Burning mouth syndrome usually doesn't cause any physical changes to your tongue or mouth that can be seen.

When to see a doctor

If you have discomfort, burning or soreness of your tongue, lips, gums or other areas of your mouth, see your health care provider or dentist. They may need to work together to help pinpoint a cause and come up with an effective treatment plan.

Causes

The cause of burning mouth syndrome may be primary or secondary.

Primary burning mouth syndrome

When the cause can't be found, the condition is called primary or idiopathic burning mouth syndrome. Some research suggests that primary burning mouth syndrome is related to problems with the nerves involved with taste and pain.

Secondary burning mouth syndrome

Sometimes burning mouth syndrome is caused by an underlying medical condition. In these cases, it's called secondary burning mouth syndrome.

Underlying problems that may be linked to secondary burning mouth syndrome include:

Risk factors

Burning mouth syndrome is uncommon. However, your risk may be greater if you're:

Burning mouth syndrome usually starts suddenly, for no known reason. But certain factors may increase your risk of developing burning mouth syndrome, including:

Complications

Complications that burning mouth syndrome may cause are mainly related to discomfort, such as problems falling asleep or difficulty eating. Long-term cases involving a lot of discomfort also could lead to anxiety or depression.

Prevention

There's no known way to prevent burning mouth syndrome. But you may be able to reduce your discomfort by not using tobacco, limiting acidic or spicy foods, not drinking carbonated beverages, and using stress management methods. Or these measures may prevent your discomfort from feeling worse.

Diagnosis

There's no one test that can tell if you have burning mouth syndrome. Instead, your health care team will try to rule out other problems before diagnosing burning mouth syndrome.

Your health care provider or dentist likely will:

Also, your health care provider will likely do a medical exam, looking for signs of other conditions. You may have some of the following tests:

Treatment

Treatment depends on whether you have primary or secondary burning mouth syndrome.

Primary burning mouth syndrome

There's no known cure for primary burning mouth syndrome. And there's no one sure way to treat it. Solid research on the most effective methods is lacking. Treatment depends on what symptoms you have and is aimed at controlling them. You may need to try several treatments before finding one or a combination that helps reduce your mouth discomfort. And it may take time for treatments to help manage symptoms.

Treatment options may include:

Secondary burning mouth syndrome

For secondary burning mouth syndrome, treatment depends on the underlying conditions that may be causing your mouth discomfort.

For example, treating an oral infection or taking supplements for a low vitamin level may relieve your discomfort. That's why it's important to try to find the cause. Once any underlying causes are treated, your burning mouth syndrome symptoms should get better.

Lifestyle and home remedies

In addition to medical treatment and prescription medicines, these self-help measures may reduce your symptoms:

Coping and support

Coping with burning mouth syndrome can be challenging. It can reduce your quality of life if you don't take steps to stay positive and hopeful.

To help you cope with the discomfort of burning mouth syndrome:

Preparing for an appointment

You'll likely start by seeing your family health care provider or dentist for mouth discomfort. Because burning mouth syndrome is linked with many other medical conditions, your provider or dentist may refer you to another specialist, such as a specialist in problems of the skin (dermatologist), or ear, nose and throat (ENT), or another type of specialist.

What you can do

Here's some information to help you get ready for your appointment:

Questions to ask may include:

Feel free to ask other questions during your appointment.

What to expect from your doctor

Your health care provider or dentist is likely to ask you several questions, such as:

Your health care provider or dentist may ask other questions based on your answers, symptoms and needs. Be ready to answer questions so you have time to discuss whatever is most important to you.

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