Have you ever felt like your mouth was on fire, but there were no spicy foods in sight? You may have been suffering from burning mouth syndrome, a condition that leaves its victims to experience a scalding sensation, as if they just drank an extremely hot liquid. Although it can affect anyone at any time, burning mouth syndrome is most documented among menopausal women.
Burning mouth syndrome is exactly as it sounds: A burning or tingling sensation inside the mouth that affects the tongue, roof, gums, cheeks and even the throat. Accompanied by other symptoms such as dry mouth, soreness, a tingling or numb feeling, or a bitter or metallic taste, burning mouth syndrome can cause extreme discomfort to those affected by it. And it's not just a little nuisance -- patients who suffer from burning mouth may experience depression and trouble sleeping.
What Ignites It
Causes of burning mouth syndrome are complex and although it is not entirely known, it is linked to many other factors. Possible causes or triggers include:
Oral Problems -- There are several mouth conditions that contribute to burning mouth syndrome. Dry mouth, oral thrush and Sjogren's syndrome, a disease that causes dryness, are all suspects in causing a flare-up.
Menopause and Hormonal Imbalances -- Menopausal women go through many hormonal changes, which can affect the amount of saliva produced in your mouth. For anyone who experiences a hormonal imbalance, burning mouth syndrome is often an aggravating side effect.
Medical Conditions -- Burning or scalding sensations may result from diabetes or thyroid problems.
Vitamin Deficiencies -- Nutrition is a key factor in preventing burning mouth syndrome. Nutritional deficiencies that result from a lack of iron, zinc and B vitamins, among others, can increase your chances of experiencing dry or burning mouth.
Acid Reflux Disease -- Stomach acid can irritate your oral tissues, leading to several dental problems.
Medications and Medical Treatments -- High blood pressure medications and antidepressants are just two of the several drugs that promote burning mouth. Your pharmacist can help you determine if the medications you're taking cause dry mouth. Burning mouth syndrome has also been linked to radiation and chemotherapy treatments for cancer patients.
Mouth Irritations -- There are so many irritants that can affect your dental health. Not surprisingly, acidic drinks, smoking and some mouthwashes are drying agents that contribute to the burning sensations. But other irritants play a role as well: Loose fitting dentures, bruxism, tongue thrusting and hard tooth brushing will also aggravate your oral tissues.
Allergies -- Burning mouth may be an allergic reaction to foods or other elements in some patients.
Nerve Damage -- Damaged nerves in the mouth and on the tongue affect more than just your taste buds. Your nerves control pain, and burning mouth syndrome may be a sign of nerve damage.
The Psychological Aspect -- Perhaps the most intriguing of all the elements that contribute to burning mouth syndrome, emotional problems, such as anxiety or depression, also enable the condition. On the other hand, the discomfort and frustration felt by the patient can also affect his or her mental health.
Burning Mouth Syndrome Treatments - Putting Out the Fire
With so many potential causes, you may not be able to determine the origin of burning mouth syndrome on your own. But don't let that take the spark out of your step -- dentists can help diagnose and treat the condition! After discussing possible causes, your dentist will check for oral problems that contribute to burning mouth. In some cases, your dentist may refer you to a physician for a blood test to determine if a medical condition is the source.
Although the disorder is difficult to diagnose, it is manageable. Your dentist might start by recommending that you eliminate the elements that dry out your mouth, such as smoking, alcohol and acidic drinks. Improving your diet, drinking more fluids, and taking vitamins or saliva replacements can assist in reducing dryness. If necessary, medications may be prescribed to regulate any medical conditions or infections that are known to cause burning mouth. It may even be as simple as adjusting your dentures or instilling better brushing habits to improve your symptoms.