It’s been called glossopyrosis, stomatodynia, glossodynia, and even stomatopyrosis. But perhaps the best name for it—and the only one that captures its true nature—is Burning Mouth Syndrome (BMS). Affecting 2% to 5% of Americans, it may seem a minor thorn in the side. Still, that’s 6.34 to 15.85 million people suffering from this mysterious disease.
What makes it mysterious?
It began ‘appearing’ or being reported to doctors in the 1970s. At the time doctors pointed to mucosal, periodontal, and restorative disorders as well as mental or emotional causes. As the years have passed, doctors have questioned these because often there’s no corresponding physical disorder with BMS.
There are some general risk factors:
- Being a so-called “supertaster,” or someone with a high density of the small tongue bumps called papillae, which contain taste buds
- Upper respiratory tract infection
- Previous dental procedures
- Allergic reactions to food
- Traumatic life events
The problem is that so many sufferers do not fall into these categories. What makes BMS more diabolical is that the mouth and gums appear perfectly normal. There’s no inflammation or sores or recognizable signs.
It’s so baffling that it has become an area of major interest for Dr. Andres Pinto, the new chair in the Department of Oral Diagnosis and Radiology at Case Western Reserve University’s School of Dental Medicine. He’s done extensive research in the field of oral pain. He lists the symptoms of BMS as follows:
- Persistent burning tongue and oral pain with no apparent dental cause
- Abnormal taste or dry feeling in the mouth
- Symptoms that disappear when eating
- Burning sensations may migrate across several oral areas
He encourages people with any of these to seek out a dentist because, as said before, there’s often now visible sign of the syndrome. While the dentist may be able to diagnose Burning Mouth Syndrome, its cause is truly elusive.
Glimmers of Hope
There are some patterns. For instance, it especially occurs:
- In women age 50 to 70
- In women from 3 years before to 12 years after menopause
- Comorbid with psychogenic disorders, physical illnesses originating from emotional/mental stress
The neurologic aspect of BMS provides the most promise of finding its root cause. The reason: BMS is often found in people with neurological function changes; also, BMS has appeared as a secondary disorder in cases that often involve improper neurological regulation: diabetes, anemia, thyroid disorders, and vitamin deficiency.
Since BMS commonly occurs alongside menopause, hormones may play a role too. But neurology seems to be where the answers will lie. A major point that supports this is that it’s most likely the deterioration of nerves under the oral lining that cause the burning. Hence the reason why there are no signs on the surface.
The pain can be bad enough to interrupt quality of life. There are, however, ways to handle it: special mouthwash, analgesics, and other topical treatments. Still, a cause would be more reassuring than just a treatment.
Dr. Potts is a gentle, caring dentist who uses the most advanced materials and procedures available. He practices comfortable, health-centered dentistry, with a strong emphasis on getting to know each patient. In addition to his technical proficiency, Dr. Potts is a careful listener. He makes sure to understand what you want and will explain beforehand what treatment is best for your individual needs, along with all options available to you. Check out our Twitter, Facebook page, and website.