What is Burning Tongue Syndrome?
with permission of the doctor

What is Burning Tongue Syndrome?

Burning mouth syndrome is a relatively common condition which is characterized by a complaint of an abnormal sensation of the lining of the mouth which most patients describe as feeling like their mouth has been scalded. Usually this sensation develops in the front part of the mouth, typically affecting the inner surfaces of the lips, the roof of the mouth, and the sides and tip of the tongue. In some patients, only the tongue will be affected, however, any combination of these sites may be seen. Some patients may have decreased taste ability or altered taste sensation. In all cases, however, the lining of the mouth clinically appears normal.

Who gets burning mouth?

Most patients who develop burning mouth syndrome are post menopausal women. We usually see about ten women for every man that has burning mouth syndrome. Interestingly, men develop this condition, on the average, about fifteen years earlier than women. This does seem to be a relatively common problem which is seen all over the world. For example, in Holland, patients with burning mouth syndrome have formed a suppport group. This seems to be a condition which affects people of all races and all socioeconomic backgrounds.

What causes burning mouth?

Nobody knows. There are a few uncommon diseases which should be tested for, such as anemia, diabetes and oral yeast infections. For most patients with burning mouth syndrome, however, those tests turn out to be normal. Some investigators have suggested that burning mouth may be a problem related to the nerves in the mouth or that it may be caused by a reduced amount of blood flowing to the mouth, however, no one has proven those theories. We do know that burning mouth is not related to anything serious, such as cancer or AIDS. Furthermore, it is not contagious-it can't be passed from one person to another.

How do doctor's diagnose burning mouth syndrome?

Burning mouth syndrome is diagnosed by doing blood tests and blood cultures to make certain that one of the other problems mentioned previously is not present. If those tests are all negative, and if the lining of the mouth appears normal, then we can make a diagnosis of burning mouth syndrome.

How is burning mouth syndrome treated?

Unfortunately, no one has developed a medically proven treatment for burning mouth syndrome. I suppose the main problem is that we don't know what causes burning mouth syndrome, therefore it is difficult to develop a treatment for the problem. A variety of medications, such as female hormone replacement therapy and vitamin therapy, have been tried, however, such treatments either have no effect or their effect is no greater than what we would expect to see with placebo treatment.

How long will the burning sensation last?

Again, we cannot say for sure. We do know that with some patients, the condition will resolve after a period of time, but no one can predict how long that will be. For the most part, this problem is a nuisance, and it is a frustrating situation for both patients and doctors.

Written by
Carl M. Allen, DDS, MSD
Professor and Director
Oral Pathology
OSU College of Dentistry
Office: (614) 292-1256
Appts: (614) 292-1472

Last updated: November 28, 2001


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