Burning mouth syndrome

By HSC Staff Writer • Published: January 17th, 2006
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Ouch! You should have let that bubbling-hot pizza cool a bit before taking a bite and searing the roof of your mouth.

We’ve all had this painful experience at one time or another. But imagine being plagued by burning sensations every day for years. That’s the unpleasant scenario for people who have burning mouth syndrome.

Burning mouth syndrome usually strikes women, especially after menopause. Sufferers report that they wake up in the morning with no symptoms, but as the day goes on, their mouth pain worsens to a point not unlike a scorching from a hot cup of coffee.

The cause of burning mouth syndrome has baffled doctors for decades. But researchers at the University of Florida believe the answer is on the tip of the tongue.

The scientists have discovered that people with burning mouth syndrome have damaged taste buds at the front of the tongue. Taste buds can be damaged by infections, some medications or the loss of estrogen experienced by older women.

Normally taste inhibits oral pain so that injuries to the mouth won’t keep us from eating, Mother Nature’s way of preventing malnutrition. But when taste buds are damaged, pain inhibition goes away and the pain centers in the mouth are turned on.

The good news is that taste buds can regenerate over time. And for immediate treatment, medications that act on the brain and nerves to produce a calming effect have been helpful, bringing sufferers of burning mouth syndrome some cooling relief.