Burning sensation affects dental patients' mouths

  • Published
  • By Maj. Carlos Diaz-laboy
  • 95th Medical Operations Squadron
Burning mouth syndrome is a common problem that causes patients to experience a burning or scalding pain on the lips, tongue and sometimes throughout the mouth. 

There are often no visible signs of irritation, and the syndrome may be caused by various factors such as the onset of menopause, psychological dysfunctions and vitamin deficiencies. 

BMS may affect up to five percent of Americans and usually occurs in people age 60 and above. 

Although members of both sexes are susceptible to BMS, it occurs more frequently in older women. Between 18 and 33 percent of post-menopausal women are estimated to have BMS. 

There are a variety of symptoms associated with BMS. The main symptom is a moderate to severe burning sensation in an individual's mouth, throat, lips and tongue. Many patients have described the feeling as "scalding." Other symptoms include dry mouth or a bitter or metallic taste. 

Patients with BMS often say the pain is gradual, intensifying as the day moves along. The discomfort and restlessness associated with BMS may cause difficulty in sleeping, mood changes, irritability, anxiety and depression. 

The cause of BMS is difficult to determine. In 30 percent of cases, it is caused by a variety of existing conditions that affect oral and systemic health. Some conditions include the onset of menopause, diabetes and deficiencies in nutrients such as iron, zinc, folate, thiamine, riboflavin, vitamins B6 and B12, and complications from cancer therapy. 

In majority of cases, no specific diagnosis for the symptoms can be made. BMS symptoms may occur from dry mouth, tongue thrusting, bruxism or teeth grinding, irritating or ill-fitting dentures and thrush. 

Some research points to nerve disorders and damage; psychological factors, particularly depression and anxiety; allergies; acid reflux; and medications that cause dry mouth. 

It's not unusual for a patient suffering from BMS to have more than one cause attributed to the ailment, or to have health care providers fail to find any cause at all. 

About one-third of patients say BMS symptoms first appeared shortly after a dental procedure, recent illness or medication course. 

BMS is difficult to diagnose because its cause can stem from any number of physical and psychological conditions. For this reason, it's important to consult with your dentist and physician to develop an appropriate treatment plan. Your dentist may refer you to a general physician or specialist for blood, allergy, liver or thyroid tests. 

Treatment for BMS depends on the patient and the cause. If the cause is related to the oral cavity, your dentist has a variety of ways to provide relief. 

For dry mouth, your dentist may advise that you drink more fluids or may prescribe medicine that promotes the flow of saliva. 

Thrush, marked by white patches in the oral cavity, may be treated with oral antifungal medications such as nystatin or fluconazole. 

If dentures are the culprit, your dentist can make adjustments so they won't irritate the mouth or replace them with better-fitting dentures. Topical capsaicin, the natural chemical in cayenne pepper, may provide pain relief for some patients with BMS. 

If dentists determine there are no oral conditions causing BMS, they may refer you to your family physician or a specialist. The physician will most likely start with a complete blood test to determine the best course of treatment. If menopause is to blame, hormone replacement therapy may be recommended. They may also recommend other medicines or treatments to provide relief. 

For more information, call the Edwards dental clinic at 277-2872.