Burning Mouth Syndrome

Burning Mouth Syndrome

Dental Health
Women's Health
Contributed byLester Fahrner, MD+1 moreAug 26, 2021

What are the other Names for this condition? (Also known as/Synonyms)

  • Glossodynia
  • Oral Dysaesthesia
  • Stomatopyrosis

What is Burning Mouth Syndrome? (Definition/Background Information)

  • Burning Mouth Syndrome (BMS) may be described as the presence of mild to severe burning sensation in the mouth that may last for several months. The condition arises spontaneously and is mostly noted in women, particularly postmenopausal women
  • Burning Mouth Syndrome may involve all the mouth parts including the tongue, cheeks, soft and hard palate (roof of the mouth), gums, and lips. However, no visible changes are observed in the mouth in individuals with BMS
  • The cause of Burning Mouth Syndrome is typically unknown (called Primary BMS). However, in some cases, it is associated with some underlying conditions, such as hormonal imbalances, stress, dry mouth, and nutritional deficiency. In such cases, it is called Secondary BMS
  • Burning Mouth Syndrome can be present for weeks, months, and in some cases, even for years. The condition can severely disrupt normal everyday life in some individuals and affect the quality of their life
  • In most cases, it is difficult to diagnose and/or treat Burning Mouth Syndrome. The treatment may include the use of prescription mouthwashes, pain-relievers, artificial saliva, and therapeutic measures to reduce stress
  • The prognosis of Burning Mouth Syndrome depends on the severity of the condition and may be assessed on a case-by-case basis. In over two-thirds of the individuals, BMS may subside and disappear after a few years (6-7 years); while in others, it may remain for lifetime

Who gets Burning Mouth Syndrome? (Age and Sex Distribution)

  • Burning Mouth Syndrome is a rare condition among the general population with a prevalence rate of 1 in 20,000. However, 1 in 7 women after menopause are reported to have BMS
  • Individuals of any age group may be affected, including children sometimes. But, the condition is mostly seen in middle-aged or older adults
  • Both males and females are affected. However, some reports indicate a very high female predominance (up to 33:1 female-male ratio)
  • Individuals of Asian origin or Native Americans have comparatively higher risk than individuals of other racial or ethnic origin

What are the Risk Factors for Burning Mouth Syndrome? (Predisposing Factors)

The risk factors for Burning Mouth Syndrome may include:

  • Postmenopausal women over the age of 50 years have the highest risk for BMS
  • Use of dental devices; recent history of oral/dental procedures
  • Having been recently ill
  • Emotional trauma or psychologic stress
  • Food allergies
  • Certain medications

It is important to note that having a risk factor does not mean that one will get the condition. A risk factor increases one’s chances of getting a condition compared to an individual without the risk factors. Some risk factors are more important than others.

Also, not having a risk factor does not mean that an individual will not get the condition. It is always important to discuss the effect of risk factors with your healthcare provider.

What are the Causes of Burning Mouth Syndrome? (Etiology)

The exact cause of Burning Mouth Syndrome (BMS) is generally unknown. It is believed to be caused by injury to facial nerves that control pain and taste in the mouth.

  • If a known cause is identified for BMS through diagnosis, then it is termed Secondary Burning Mouth Syndrome
  • However, if no underlying condition or trigger is detected, then the condition is termed Primary Burning Mouth Syndrome

Secondary Burning Mouth Syndrome is known to be associated with the following conditions:

  • Hormonal imbalances that arise from thyroidal abnormalities or poorly-controlled diabetes (endocrine disorders)
  • Certain food allergies, allergy to smells
  • Allergy to materials used in dental devices, implants, or dentures
  • Xerostomia or dry mouth
  • Taking certain medications (such as for hypertension)
  • Oral fungal infections, geographic tongue
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • Having a diet low in vitamins and minerals (such as iron, zinc, and vitamin B complex)
  • Tooth grinding (bruxism)
  • Stress and depression
  • Excess use of certain toothpastes or oral rinses

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Burning Mouth Syndrome?            

The signs and symptoms of Burning Mouth Syndrome may include:

  • Mild to severe burning sensation in the mouth
  • The tongue is most commonly involved; hence, the condition may be also known as Burning Tongue Syndrome
  • Mouth dryness and increased thirst
  • Inability to taste; different taste sensation in mouth such as metallic taste
  • The burning sensation worsens during the day. It is milder in the morning and present everyday
  • It is observed throughout the day, but may sometimes ‘come and go’

How is Burning Mouth Syndrome Diagnosed?

A Burning Mouth Syndrome is diagnosed using the following methods:

  • Complete physical examination of the mouth and evaluation of the presenting symptoms
  • Assessment of medical history including the presence of any underlying conditions
  • Tests for allergies
  • Blood tests such as complete blood count and blood-sugar levels
  • Thyroid function test
  • Check function of salivary glands and assess flow of saliva (with or without stimulation)
  • Tests to check for acid reflux disease
  • Stress test and psychological evaluation
  • Oral culture swabs to rule-out an infectious etiology/cause

Many clinical conditions may have similar signs and symptoms. Your healthcare provider may perform additional tests to rule out other clinical conditions to arrive at a definitive diagnosis.

What are the possible Complications of Burning Mouth Syndrome?

Complications due to Burning Mouth Syndrome may include:

  • Emotional stress
  • Sleep difficulties
  • Difficulty in eating and chewing
  • Individuals, who use their voice, such as professional singers or news presenters, may be severely affected (affecting their career)
  • Reduced quality of life

How is Burning Mouth Syndrome Treated?

Presently, Burning Mouth Syndrome is an incurable condition. In a majority of cases, it is also difficult to treat the condition, if the causative factor is not well-established. However, in individuals with significant symptoms, the following symptomatic treatment measures may be considered:

  • Use of certain prescribed oral rinses
  • Use of artificial saliva
  • Medication, such as capsaicin, to relieve pain and to block nerve pain impulses
  • Medications to help cope with stress including antidepressants and anticonvulsants
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy may be beneficial in some individuals
  • Treating any underlying medical condition that may be responsible for BMS

There is no specific treatment plan for Burning Mouth Syndrome. The healthcare provider may have to work with each individual to identify what measures are helpful in controlling the specific symptoms that are present in them.

Some helpful home care tips include:

  • Drinking plenty of water and fluids
  • Avoiding foods that are spicy and hot, including acidic foods (such as citrus fruits)
  • Avoid tobacco and any form of alcohol
  • Try chewing sugar-free gum
  • Cold drinks or ice cubes may soothe the burning pain
  • Practice yoga and meditation
  • Try to remain physically active and cheerful

How can Burning Mouth Syndrome be Prevented?

Currently, there are no available measures to prevent the development of Burning Mouth Syndrome (BMS). However, the following may be considered and certain triggering factors avoided:

  • Avoid excess stress
  • Reduce intake of (or avoid) foods that are spicy or acidic, including carbonated drinks
  • Stop smoking or chewing tobacco
  • Identify foods causing allergy and avoid their consumption
  • Check with healthcare provider on alternative medications, if the current medications are triggers for BMS
  • Visit a dentist to evaluate the condition of any prosthetic dental devices being used, including dentures; replace worn-out or ill-fitting dentures

What is the Prognosis of Burning Mouth Syndrome? (Outcomes/Resolutions)

The prognosis of Burning Mouth Syndrome (BMS) is difficult to ascertain and may be only assessed on a case-by-case basis.

  • If it responds well to treatment and/or the causative factors are controlled, the prognosis can be improved
  • In some, BMS may be a long duration condition (lasting many years) that can severely affect one’s daily routine and quality of life
  • 65% of the individuals may note a spontaneous resolution of the condition, after 6-7 years. In the remaining, it may be permanent
  • In some the chronicity and severity of symptoms may change - from continuous to intermittent, or from mild to severe, etc.

Additional and Relevant Useful Information for Burning Mouth Syndrome:

Please visit our Dental Health Center for more physician-approved health information:


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On the Article

Krish Tangella MD, MBA picture
Approved by

Krish Tangella MD, MBA

Pathology, Medical Editorial Board, DoveMed Team
Lester Fahrner, MD picture
Reviewed by

Lester Fahrner, MD

Chief Medical Officer, DoveMed Team


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