August 19th, 2010
03:52 PM ET

How can I relieve the burning in my mouth?

As a feature of CNNhealth.com, our team of expert doctors will answer readers' questions. Here's a question for Dr. Gupta.

From Karen Burns, Matawan, New Jersey

"My mouth has been on fire for two years! I have burning mouth syndrome. Could you please provide information about this disturbing syndrome?”

Karen, thank you for your question. As you have experienced, burning mouth syndrome (BMS) can be a painful, frustrating condition that causes a sensation of moderate to severe burning in the mouth which can last from months to years. The pain can include your tongue, lips, gums, insides of your cheeks, roof of your mouth, and can feel like you’ve scalded your mouth.

While BMS can affect anybody, its more common among middle-aged or older women, according to the National Institutes of Health. Some people experience a bitter or metallic taste in their mouth, a dry or sore mouth, or tingling or numbness in the mouth and tongue. The pain can take on different patterns, according to the Mayo Clinic, including starting with mild pain when you awaken, but worsening as the day goes on, or it can be severe all day, from the beginning of the day. It can also come and go, or you may experience days without any pain at all.

The syndrome is frustrating because it’s often difficult or impossible to pin down the cause of the burning, making treatment a challenge. Possible causes range the gamut, including hormonal changes, nutritional deficiencies, oral candidiasis, acid reflux, ill-fitting dentures or an allergy to denture materials, dry mouth caused by medicines or disorders, damage to nerves that control pain and taste, excessive mouth irritation resulting from over brushing of your tongue, overuse of mouthwash, having too many acidic drinks, or anxiety and depression.

To diagnose BMS, your health care professional is likely to run blood work looking for signs of nutritional deficiencies, infection, and disorders that are associated with BMS, which include diabetes or thyroid problems. They will also swab your mouth to check for oral candidiasis. Another option is to test for allergies to denture materials, foods, or other substances that may be causing your condition.

When the cause of the BMS can’t be identified, it’s called primary, or idiopathic burning mouth syndrome. When the cause of BMS can be identified - such as a nutritional deficiency for iron, zinc, one of the B vitamins, or an allergy to denture materials, it’s called secondary burning mouth syndrome.

Your treatment for BMS will depend upon the cause of the burning. If your dentures are causing the irritation, they will need to be adjusted or replaced; if it’s due to a medical condition such as diabetes, Sjogren’s syndrome or a thyroid problem, your medical professional will treat the underlying condition; supplements will be used to treat a nutritional deficiency; if a prescription drug is causing your burning mouth, switching medications may be an option, and medications can be prescribed to relieve underlying conditions including anxiety and depression, dry mouth, oral candidiasis, and pain from nerve damage.

If a cause cannot be found for your BMS, your treatment will focus on relieving your symptoms of pain. There are also things that you can do to relieve mouth pain and dryness, including sucking on ice chips, chewing sugarless gum to keep your mouth moist, sipping water frequently, brushing your teeth or dentures with baking soda and water, and avoiding alcohol, tobacco, and irritating substances such as spicy foods, mouthwashes that contain drying alcohol, and acidic products like citrus fruits and juices.

Filed under: Expert Q&A

soundoff (12 Responses)
  1. Carl Haefling

    I have had success in taking Alpha Lipoic Acid for BMS. There has been research done using it in Spain. I noticed an improvement after taking 300mg in the morning, 300 in the afternoon, and 600 around 5 PM when the taste sensation was at its worst.

    August 20, 2010 at 11:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. defarqua

    I suffered from a burning sensation in my mouth for several years until I read that Lack of Vit D can cause this symptom. The problem went away within a week after taking Vit D supplements

    August 23, 2010 at 11:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Patticake57

    I've suffered from BMS for over 15 years. When I told my doctor my symptoms, he had never heard of any such thing. He basically thought I was imagining it. So, for years I was telling myself it was all in my mind until about five years ago; I checked the internet and diagnosed myself. Needless to say I was so relieved to know I wasn't imagining this major burning sensation that felt like I was constantly eating hot sauce. Shame on that doctor.

    August 27, 2010 at 02:27 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Jane

      Please share with me how you found relief?

      March 5, 2012 at 19:37 | Report abuse |
  4. Connie

    I have had burning mouth and tongue for about 5 years. I have seen numerous doctors, naturopaths, oral pathologists and dentists. All could offer no assistance. About 3 months ago, I started using Bio-Strath tablets, available at a natural supplement store (the liquid didn't work for me). I take 2 before each meal. It took about one month, but I have my life back! The pain has definitely decreased from intolerable to very manageable. My symptoms followed the Mayo Clinic description exactly but now I have relief! Thank you God!

    July 3, 2012 at 11:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Lisa

    I experience BMS about 4 years after going through menopause, which I understand is very typical. I play a wood wind instrument as well and playing became very painful and difficult to control. At the same time BMS appeared my hot flashed suddenly increased and I began having problems with acne. I concluded that hormones were a factor in this, however my "male " doctor refused to do a hormone level check and insisted that my thyroid levels needed to be checked. Of course my thyroid was fine. I spoke to my dentist and ENT, as well and they said there was no none cause or cure. So, as I suspected, I was on my own. I have discovered that the herbal supplement- Menopause Support made by NOW has made an incredible difference. For the most part it is under control and the pimples and hot flashes are almost gone. If I stop the supplements it comes back. I also experimented with food allergies and I think wheat seems to bother it also.

    February 9, 2013 at 12:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. unowhoitsme

    I've had burning mouth syndrome off and on. When I had it before, I just took 2 Tbl. of nutritional yeast, which is high in B vitamins, and that usually took care of the problem. This time, I'm not sure what's going on. I am going through menopause and I am depressed, so it could be one of those 'wonderful' experiences. I am going to try increasing my vitamin D, like someone suggested. I'm not going the hormonal route...won't do the breast cancer risk of synthetic hormones.

    March 19, 2013 at 20:20 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Maria

      I am 60 years old. I've have burning tongue syndrome for more than two years. I went to an oral surgeon as well as my dentist but they didn't know how to treat mine. I got relieve from discovering I was difficient in bioflavinoids. I was taking vitamin C but without bioflavinoids. When I began eating tangerines and really chewing on the white stringy parts did I find any relief. I still have it a little bit but now I hardly notice it. I was horrible before. Good luck to you.

      January 13, 2014 at 11:46 | Report abuse |
  7. Logan Flitsch

    Mexican hot sauce typically focuses more on flavor than on intense heat. Chipotles are a very popular ingredient of Mexican hot sauce and although the sauces are hot, the individual flavors of the peppers are more pronounced. Vinegar is used sparingly or not at all in Mexico but some sauces are high in vinegar content similar to the American Louisiana-style sauces. Some hot sauces made in Mexico may include using the seeds from the popular achiote plant for coloring or a slight flavor additive. ;

    My blog site

    April 26, 2013 at 18:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Brenda Grothe

    I have had the Burning mouth for about 2 years. The first time I got it, I took 30 diflucan and got rid of it. Now I have diflucan, herpes medicine, and now I am on hormones since I have gone through menopause. Nothing is working now. I have gone to the Dentist and Doctor and they cannot do anything for me. Please help. It is getting worse instead of better.

    September 9, 2013 at 15:28 | Report abuse | Reply
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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.