There are many possible reasons for a burning sensation in your mouth. Seeing a qualified professional such as a dentist, who can further refer you to an oral medicine specialist is important in order to reach the right diagnosis.
If you have googled “oral burning”, chances are that you would have come across a condition known as “burning mouth syndrome”. Burning mouth syndrome (BMS) is not actually a syndrome, but a condition that mostly presents with burning pain in the tongue or other oral mucous membranes. It is more common in females.
Diagnosing Burning Mouth
The specialist will take a thorough history, to make sure you do not have other conditions that could be causing the burning. Your specialist may even refer you for blood tests. For example, they may want to check your iron, folate or B12 levels. Sometimes, BMS may be called “primary” or “secondary”.
- Primary Burning Mouth Syndrome: This is known as “idiopathic”, meaning we do not have a reason for the burning. The clinical examination and laboratory findings are unremarkable.
- Secondary Burning Mouth Syndrome: This is when oral burning may be explained by a clinical cause or by the patient’s medical history.
It is important to note that the burning in BMS can often be associated with other symptoms such as dryness of the mouth, paraesthesia (aka “tingling sensation”) and altered taste. BMS is sometimes referred to as “oral dysaesthesia” because it’s often associated with a wide range of symptoms.
Other Factors that may cause a Burning Mouth
- Infective conditions such as oral candidosis can often be associated with burning mouth
- Traumatic causes such as damage to tongue papillae can cause a burning mouth. Damage to the tongue papillae can happen for various reasons, including such as cancer therapies, eating disorders, gastro-oesophageal reflux, or dehydration
- If you’ve had radiotherapy in the past, then you could have damage to your salivary glands, causing salivary gland hypofunction. Salivary hypofunction means that you make LESS saliva than the average person, causing a dry mouth, which can often be associated with a burning mouth. Salivary gland hypofunction may also be because of salivary gland disorders or autoimmune conditions such as Sjögren’s syndrome
- Oral mucosal diseases such as oral lichen planus
- Metabolic issues such as nutritional deficiencies, diabetes, thyroid problems or hormone changes
- Medication-related adverse effect. Many medications have oral burning as a potential side effect
- Allergies including reaction to dental materials or dentures
- Oral galvanism
- Central nervous system disorders including multiple sclerosis or Parkinson’s disease
Management of a Burning Mouth
- To reach the correct diagnosis, seeing a professional is important
- Avoid irritating substances such as tobacco, spicy food, acidic/citrus fruits, alcohol or mouthwashes that contain alcohol.
- Your specialist may recommend topical creams, mouthwashes or systemic medication that can help control the pain and improve a dry mouth.
- A burning mouth may be caused due to highly acidic mouth or GORD (Gastro-oesophageal reflux disease), which can be damaging to structures in the mouth and throat. If this is the case, seeing your family doctor and treating GORD is important.
- Other management strategies including the use of alpha-lipoic acid, low-level laser therapy and capsaicin mouthwashes.
There are many possible reasons for a burning mouth, and the treatment that works for one person may not work for another. Therefore, it’s best to see a specialist and discuss a treatment plan, which is specifically based around your medical history and symptoms.