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Burning mouth, what to do? Causes, symptoms and treatments

Feeling itching or burning in your mouth from time to time is common, especially if you have previously eaten foods that can increase this sensation, such as very spicy foods or foods with a lot of spices. As well as if we eat foods that are at a very high temperature.

But there are times in particular where it is not possible to feel a burning sensation in the oral cavity due to a specific cause that we can determine. And in addition to this, the itching is constant and very intense to the point of being annoying and depriving you from doing other things like talking, drinking or eating. 

In that case, we may refer to burning mouth syndrome and we should have the help of a specialist in the area to help us determine the possible causes. 

Do you want to know more? We explain in the following article everything you need to know about this problem and what is needed to remove this unpleasant sensation.

What is glossodynia or burning mouth syndrome?

Burning mouth syndrome is the term used to describe the constant burning or itching sensation in the oral cavity or its mucous membranes. 

Its medical name is glossodynia or stomatodynia, and it can develop in multiple areas of our mouth, especially in the mucous membranes or sensitive areas: tongue, inside of the cheeks, palate, gums, throat, gums, etc. 

There is no particular age in which it develops, each person can suffer from this syndrome. But according to studies, this disease is much more frequent in women who are about to go through menopause and in people over 60 years old who are already reaching old age.

The discomfort they develop from this syndrome is quite uncomfortable and can last for a long period of time. It may take days, months or years for the symptoms to disappear completely or to disappear naturally (if at all). 

In any case, this syndrome can be permanent or it can be intermittent, or in other words, it can appear occasionally in our mouth. 

What if I feel burning for other reasons?

The main reason why burning mouth syndrome develops is that it has no apparent reason or previous injury. 

So if we have ingested some food with a high temperature, it is not likely to be due to this syndrome, because although we feel the mucous membranes burning these respond to a reasonable particular cause: The high temperature of the food. 

In this case, it will only be necessary to follow a series of instructions that can help to reduce the discomfort of this cause. 

For example, if you have burned your mouth, you can rinse with salt water or mouthwash that has an analgesic response. Although depending on the seriousness of the burn you can go to the doctor if the symptoms persist, as it could have triggered another problem that has nothing to do with this particular syndrome. 

Symptoms of glossodynia

The symptoms of burning mouth syndrome may appear gradually or spontaneously and directly. 

  • Among the most obvious symptoms, we can get these: 
  • A burning, itching or stinging sensation in the different parts of the oral cavity.
  • Alteration in the ability to perceive flavors: The sense of taste is diminished and modification in the taste of food, feeling it bitter.
  • Perception of dryness in the mouth.
  • Tongue numbness, accompanied by a certain tingling sensation.

In case these symptoms are the same as the ones you feel, it is advisable to see your dentist.

It is normal that even if you have burning mouth syndrome you may feel relief if you drink different types of beverages at room temperature or cold or if you eat some foods, but that does not mean that you are totally free and that you are not suffering from this problem. 

If you have any psychological history that confirms that you are a person who gets stressed easily or that you maintain high levels of anxiety, these symptoms are likely to feel much worse.

If symptoms persist, there can be significant and negative changes in the process of chewing and swallowing food. And in much more severe cases, it can affect the quality of people’s sleep, making the possibility of insomnia more likely. 

Causes of burning mouth syndrome

As we have already mentioned above, glossodynia is diagnosed through the continuous sensation of discomfort and burning in some area of the mouth, especially in the mucous membranes, without a logical reason that justifies this. 

Dry mouth syndrome has very different causes and can respond to different stimuli. The severity of the problem and the symptoms depend on each person and each particular cause, but there is not one that can be said to be the main cause. 

Depending on the cause, dentists categorize burning mouth syndrome as primary, or idiopathic, and secondary.

  • Primary or Idiopathic Burning Mouth Syndrome

After having performed medical tests that can help in the diagnosis, there is no apparent reason in any of them that can determine an abnormality in the person that could be the culprit of this problem. 

In these particular cases, the burning sensation is usually combined with abnormalities in taste perception and to neural and sensory damage to the peripheral or central nervous system. 

  • Secondary burning mouth syndrome

In these particular cases, if there is a cause after appropriate diagnostic tests have been performed on the patient. 

Most of the diagnoses of burning mouth syndrome can derive from other types of pathologies, for example, vitamin deficiencies or poorly positioned or very worn dental prostheses. 

Among the most common causes of this type of syndrome, we can determine: 

  • Allergic reactions to multiple types of foods or to different materials used in dentistry to perform fillings or other types of procedures.
  • Diseases affecting the tongue: oral candidiasis, oral lichen planus or geographic tongue.
  • Presence of periodontal diseases.
  • Vitamin deficiencies 
  • Anemia
  • Stomach acid reflux or gastroesophageal reflux.
  • Xerostomia
  • Endocrine disorders such as diabetes or thyroid problems.
  • Anxiety or high levels of stress, such as tongue biting.
  • Strong hormonal changes generated by menopause or pregnancy. 
  • Presence of ill-fitting dentures that may cause irritation of the area.
  • Smoking, which can cause some numbness of the tongue.

If there are any of these symptoms, through them it will be possible to determine the type of treatment particularly indicated for your problem. 

Diagnosis of burning mouth syndrome

There is no specific test that can determine if you suffer from burning mouth syndrome. But even so, the doctor will rule out other problems before arriving at a diagnosis of burning mouth syndrome. 

The dentist will most likely look at your medical history and, if you have medication, evaluate it. In addition, he/she will do a direct physical examination in the office and ask for a description of your oral symptoms, your daily oral care routine and lifestyle. 

Among the other possibilities is that the dentist may ask you to do a general medical examination to determine if you have other problems. The most common tests that patients are sent for are: 

Blood tests:

Through blood tests your entire blood count, glucose levels, thyroid function, visible nutritional factors and how your immune system is functioning can be investigated. So it should give you some information about your oral discomfort.

Oral cultures or biopsies:

Taking a sample from your mouth and analyzing it under a microscope can determine if there is a bacterial, viral or fungal infection. 

Allergy testing: 

Your dentist has the ability to suggest some allergy tests to determine if there is any type of reaction to a particular food or additives. 

Salivary measurements:

In case what you suffer from is burning mouth syndrome, your mouth will most likely feel dry. Salivary testing can determine if you have Xerostomia, which is when you have a very low salivary flow.

Gastric reflux tests

As the name says, from these tests it is determined if there is a disease in gastroesophageal reflux.

Diagnostic testing through imaging:

The dentist may suggest an MRI, CT scan among other diagnostic imaging tests to make sure everything is fine and you are not suffering from other types of health problems. 

Adjustment of medications: 

In case you have a specific medication that may cause oral discomfort, it should be discussed with the primary physician to decrease or change the dosage. And even change the medication or recommend temporary disuse of the medication to determine if it is the medication that is causing the burning mouth syndrome. It is important to note that it should not be discontinued on our own or without prior medical study or confirmation to avoid problems. 

Psychological questionnaires:

It fits in the possibilities that you need to complete a psychological questionnaire that can help determine if you have any symptoms of a mental condition such as depression, anxiety or other mental illness.

Treatment of glossodynia

There is no specific and totally curative treatment that can help cure burning mouth syndrome. So it is essential in these cases that the particular cause of this problem is determined.

Treatments usually focus on solving the cause of glossodynia, not its symptoms.

So, treatment of burning mouth syndrome can range from adjustment of a poorly positioned denture, a vitamin supplement, a change in particular diet or habits. 

Diet change may be recommended if the patient is having these symptoms due to an undiagnosed food allergy that worsens the mucosal situation. 

It is important to consider that although the symptoms may go away, this may take much longer than normal and be quite uncomfortable for the person. Especially if the patient has this syndrome due to an undiagnosed psychological factor.

Can burning mouth syndrome be prevented?

As we mentioned above, this disease can be caused by multiple things, so it is very difficult for there to be a method of prevention. 

But even so, there are a series of steps that can improve the symptoms of people who are going through this syndrome. 

Before this condition, dentists make the following recommendations:

  • Hydrate constantly in order to balance the levels of saliva you have in your mouth. Increase the intake of healthy liquids in abundance, avoid those that are highly processed and are high in sugar such as soft drinks. In addition to highly acidic juices
  • Maintain a diet rich in healthy foods and avoid those that are too spicy or have too many spices among their components. 
  • Decrease the use of alcohol and tobacco, which usually irritate the oral mucous membranes. 
  • Reduce the level of daily stress. 

Preparation before the appointment

Most probably, you will need to consult a general practitioner first before going to the dentist, as it is normal that burning mouth syndrome is related to different types of pathologies that may be beyond the dentist’s capabilities. Therefore, it is normal that you will be constantly referred to another specialist to determine the cause of your problem. 

This guide can help you prepare for the consultation:

  • Ask the doctor if you need to do anything before the dental appointment, such as going without food or something similar. 
  • Determine the list of symptoms, including those not directly related to the mouth.
  • Make a list of key personal information, such as any stressful situations or recent lifestyle changes.
  • Make a list of all medications, vitamins, herbal remedies and other supplements you are taking, as well as dosages.
  • Bring a copy of all previous consultations and tests you have had for this problem.
  • Ask a family member or friend to go with you, if possible, for support and to help you remember everything.
  • Prepare questions to ask the doctor ahead of time.

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