Burning Mouth Syndrome is a condition where a person’s mouth feels like it is scalding hot. At its worst, the mouth can feel like it is on fire. It is usually accompanied by dry mouth or a metallic taste.
“Sometimes it’s in the tongue, the cheek or other various places in the mouth,” says Robert Matlock, DDS, MAGD, of Matlock General Dentistry in Rogers, Ark.
Known as scalded mouth syndrome, burning lips syndrome, glossodynia, burning tongue syndrome and stomatodynia, Burning Mouth Syndrome usually feels like an inflamed swelling sensation combined with a burning feeling, and it can form in the gums and lips.
“Patients will come in reporting a burning sensation in their mouths, wondering what it is,” Matlock says, although he very rarely sees visible signs of this condition. “You look inside and you cannot see anything abnormal,” he says, “You just have to listen to the patient and whatever they are describing.”
How Common Is Burning Mouth Syndrome?
The condition is rare, according to Matlock, who saw about one patient every five years – out of his 40 years of practicing – who had Burning Mouth Syndrome. The Academy of General Dentistry reports that only .5 to .7 percent of the general population develops this dental condition.
Who Develops Burning Mouth Syndrome?
Burning Mouth Syndrome can occur in either sex at any age. However, Matlock says the most common occurrence is in females over 50 years old. In fact, over half of those with the condition fall into that demographic.
Matlock says at least half of the females with Burning Mouth Syndrome develop it due to stress or experiencing hormonal imbalances. One of his patients – a woman over 50 – develops it during Christmas time when there is extra stress, giving credit to his claim that Burning Mouth is an “episodic” condition that comes and goes.
Burning Mouth Syndrome can occur along with a variety of other conditions, including allergies, nutrient deficiencies and xerostomia (dry mouth), according to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research.
How Serious Is Burning Mouth Syndrome?
At its worst, Burning Mouth Syndrome can cause or be associated with difficulty sleeping, depression, impaired relationships and other life-altering changes. However, most of the time it does not reach that level of severity.
It is painful and can cause high levels of discomfort. But Matlock says conditions like depression are usually already present and rarely caused by Burning Mouth Syndrome. The cases he saw were never at a dangerous level. “The ones I have known, it went away or it wasn’t so intolerable that they couldn’t live with it,” he says.
How Is Burning Mouth Syndrome Detected?
Burning Mouth Syndrome unfortunately does not have one proven cause or one effective treatment. It can sometimes take several tests to diagnose the condition. “It can’t be duplicated in the lab,” Matlock says, “so they can’t come with a diagnostic test.”
Instead of giving tests for Burning Mouth Syndrome – which is impossible – doctors and dentists will give tests to rule out other conditions. They usually will run blood tests, take oral cultures, give an MRI or CT scan, perform allergy tests, take salivary measurements, give gastric reflux tests or hand out psychological questionnaires.
In a retrospective study by researchers at the Academy of General Dentistry, 49 mostly mid-life women experienced a sudden onset of the burning sensations and they lasted for 20 months on average. Thirty-eight received 71 different interventions from doctors before actually being diagnosed.