We’ve all taken a sip of a scalding drink or singed the roof of our mouths on a spoonful of steaming soup. Most often, the feeling goes away after a few minutes or hours.
Some people, however, experience blazing pain that lasts for months or years. It’s called burning mouth syndrome, and doctors aren’t always sure what causes it.
A scalding sensation on the tongue, lips, or throughout the mouth is the most common symptom of burning mouth syndrome. Many people with the condition report pain that develops in the late morning, building into the evening, and easing at night.
Other signs you may have burning mouth syndrome include:
A dry or sore mouth
A bitter or metallic taste
Tingling or numbness in the mouth or at the tip of the tongue
The condition can strike anyone, but is most common in women after menopause.
Doctors once thought burning mouth syndrome was the result of a psychological disorder. They now know that although depression and anxiety can contribute to its development, it may also be a result of dealing with chronic pain.
Other factors that may lead to burning mouth syndrome include:
Damage to the nerves that control taste and pain
Thrush (oral candidiasis) — a fungal infection
Dentures that don’t fit right, or an allergy to denture materials
The condition may have more than one cause in some, but for others, the cause may never be identified.
Talk with your doctor if you’re experiencing burning mouth syndrome. Therapy often depends on the underlying factors. Treatments include:
Adjusting medications or treating diseases that cause dry mouth, including diabetes
Fixing or replacing dentures
Taking vitamin supplements
Taking anti-fungal medication
Using mouth rinse made with capsaicin, a compound in hot peppers
Taking antidepressants, which may relieve psychological symptoms but are also thought to change the taste system
Undergoing hormone therapy
Taking pain medication if the cause can’t be identified or other treatments don’t work
You can also try these tips to soothe the burning:
Chew sugarless gum.
Sip water or suck on chips of ice.
Avoid foods and drinks that might trigger burning, including those that are hot or spicy, contain alcohol, or are high in acid, like citrus fruits and juices.
Avoid smoking cigarettes or using other tobacco products.
Brush your teeth or dentures gently, at least twice a day, with baking soda and water instead of toothpaste.Pay special attention to the gum line.
“Burning Mouth Syndrome.” National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, May 2011. www.nidcr.nih.gov/OralHealth/Topics/Burning/BurningMouthSyndrome.htm. Accessed 2013.
“Burning Mouth Syndrome.” American Academy of Family Physicians, July 2013. http://familydoctor.org/familydoctor/en/diseases-conditions/burning-mouth-syndrome.html. Accessed 2013.
“Oral Health.” Office on Women's Health, Department of Health and Human Services. http://www.womenshealth.gov/health-topics/a-z-topic/pubs-orgs.cfm?topic=458. Accessed 2013.