Understanding Burning Mouth and Tongue

By Sarah E. | Updated: Jun 18, 2020


Burning mouth and tongue is a painful condition characterized by a burning sensation or soreness of the tongue, but may also include the gums, lips, inside of the cheeks, or the roof of the mouth. What makes this painful condition so frustrating is the complete absence of obvious cause, such as lesions or disease in the mouth.

Though not as well-known as hot flashes or mood swings, this symptom is surprisingly common during menopause - up to one-third of menopausal women will experience it, and 90% of those with burning mouth syndrome are postmenopausal. This condition is poorly understood, but its prevalence during this time period leads experts to believe that fluctuating hormones play a key role.

Read on for more information about burning mouth and tongue and how to treat them.

A sore burning tongue is not the same as the temporary discomfort that many people experience after eating certain foods

What Exactly Does Burning Mouth Feel Like?

When experiencing burning mouth syndrome, a painful burning sensation is usually focused on the tongue, but may affect other parts of the mouth. The pain may range from moderate to severe, even disrupting daily life or sleep. Most patients report a gradual increase in intensity throughout the day. Other symptoms may include:

  • Possible occurrence of dry mouth
  • Change in the sense of taste
  • Change in quantity or quality of saliva
  • Bitter or metallic taste in the mouth

Pain may decrease when eating (especially cold foods), but it is associated with spicy food, excess talking, and stress. Burning mouth and tongue are often spontaneous, they also usually clear up on its own, sometimes a few months or years later.

Who Is Affected by Burning Mouth and Tongue?

Women are 90% more likely to develop burning mouth and tongue than men, and while it can occur anywhere between the ages of 27 and 87, the average age of occurrence is 61.

Furthermore, burning mouth seems to occur more often in smokers or people with the following conditions:

  • Parkinson's disease
  • Gastrointestinal or urogenital disease
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Bipolar disorder

What Causes Burning Mouth?

Burning mouth remains much of a mystery to researchers, as it doesn't present any obvious cause - unlike other forms of pain in the mouth. But its prevalence in menopausal women lead experts to believe that the decrease of estrogen and progesterone may have an effect. These hormones interact closely with the neurological and nervous systems, and may cause neuroprotective steroids to decline, which in turn may lead to the degeneration of certain nerve fibers. However, there are other possible causes of a sore tongue or burning sensation in the mouth:

  • Local factors. Dry mouth, oral infection, lesions, parafunctional habits like clenching, and allergic reactions may lead to a burning sensation.
  • Systemic factors. Diabetes, hormone imbalance, vitamin deficiency, medications, and hyposalivation conditions may induce this sensation.
  • Psychological factors. Depression, anxiety and related disorders, and psychosocial stress are indirect causes of burning tongue.

How Is Burning Mouth Treated?

Similar to its elusive cause, burning mouth syndrome is difficult to treat. However, there are a few promising suggestions:

  • Drink plenty of fluids
  • Take B-complex vitamins and zinc
  • Antioxidants
  • Pain relievers
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy
  • Anxiety and stress-reduction techniques

Read more information about combating burning mouth and tongue.

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