Symptoms of burning mouth syndrome may include:
- A burning sensation that most commonly affects your tongue, but may also affect your lips, gums, palate, throat or whole mouth
- A sensation of dry mouth with increased thirst
- Taste changes, such as a bitter or metallic taste
- Loss of taste
The discomfort from burning mouth syndrome typically has several different patterns. It may occur every day, with little discomfort when you wake, but become worse as the day progresses. Or it may start as soon as you wake up and last all day. Or discomfort may come and go.
Whatever pattern of mouth discomfort you have, burning mouth syndrome may last for months to years. In rare cases, symptoms may suddenly go away on their own or become less frequent. Burning mouth syndrome usually doesn't cause any noticeable physical changes to your tongue or mouth.
When to see a doctor
If you have discomfort, burning or soreness of your tongue, lips, gums or other areas of your mouth, see your doctor or dentist. They may need to work together to help pinpoint a cause and develop an effective treatment plan.
The cause of burning mouth syndrome can be classified as either primary or secondary.
Primary burning mouth syndrome
When no clinical or lab abnormalities can be identified, the condition is called primary or idiopathic burning mouth syndrome. Some research suggests that primary burning mouth syndrome is related to problems with taste and sensory nerves of the peripheral or central nervous system.
Secondary burning mouth syndrome
Sometimes burning mouth syndrome is caused by an underlying medical condition. In these cases, it's called secondary burning mouth syndrome.
Underlying problems that may be linked to secondary burning mouth syndrome include:
- Dry mouth (xerostomia), which can be caused by various medications, health problems, problems with salivary gland function or the side effects of cancer treatment
- Other oral conditions, such as a fungal infection of the mouth (oral thrush), an inflammatory condition called oral lichen planus, or a condition called geographic tongue that gives the tongue a map-like appearance
- Nutritional deficiencies, such as lack of iron, zinc, folate (vitamin B-9), thiamin (vitamin B-1), riboflavin (vitamin B-2), pyridoxine (vitamin B-6) and cobalamin (vitamin B-12)
- Dentures, especially if they don't fit well, which can place stress on some muscles and tissues of your mouth, or if they contain materials that irritate mouth tissues
- Allergies or reactions to foods, food flavorings, other food additives, fragrances, dyes or dental-work substances
- Reflux of stomach acid (gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD) that enters your mouth from your stomach
- Certain medications, particularly high blood pressure medications called angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors
- Oral habits, such as tongue thrusting, biting the tip of the tongue and teeth grinding (bruxism)
- Endocrine disorders, such as diabetes or underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism)
- Excessive mouth irritation, which may result from overbrushing your tongue, using abrasive toothpastes, overusing mouthwashes or having too many acidic drinks, such as lemon
- Psychological factors, such as anxiety, depression or stress
Burning mouth syndrome is uncommon. However, your risk may be greater if:
- You're a woman
- You're postmenopausal
- You're in your 50s, 60s or even 70s.
Burning mouth syndrome usually begins spontaneously, with no known triggering factor. But some studies suggest that certain factors may increase your risk of developing burning mouth syndrome. These risk factors may include:
- Upper respiratory tract infection
- Previous dental procedures
- Allergic reactions to food
- Traumatic life events
Complications that burning mouth syndrome may cause or be associated with are mainly related to discomfort. They include:
- Difficulty falling asleep
- Difficulty eating
- Decreased socializing
- Impaired relationships
There's no known way to prevent burning mouth syndrome. But by avoiding tobacco, acidic foods, spicy foods and carbonated beverages, and excessive stress, you may be able to reduce the discomfort from burning mouth syndrome or prevent your discomfort from getting worse.