Burning Tongue Syndrome

Burning tongue syndrome is a painful, frustrating condition which causes scorching sensation on the tongue. This condition also affects the lips, gums, palate and entire regions of the mouth. The pain will be so severe as if you have charred your mouth.

There are many names for this syndrome which include burning mouth syndrome, scalded mouth syndrome, burning lips syndrome, stomatodynia and glossodynia.

Causes of Burning Tongue Syndrome

The causes responsible for burning tongue syndrome are classified as primary and secondary.

Primary burning tongue syndrome

When the actual cause of this syndrome is unknown, the condition is known to be primary. This is also known as idiopathic burning mouth syndrome. Research has shown that this primary syndrome is related to problems of sensory nerves and taste of the central or peripheral nervous system.

Secondary burning tongue syndrome

When burning tongue syndrome is caused by any underlying medical condition, like nutritional deficiency, it is known as secondary burning tongue syndrome. The conditions include:

  • Xerostomia (dry mouth), caused by various health problems or medications
  • Oral problems like oral lichen planus, thrush or geographic tongue
  • Psychological factors like stress, depression, anxiety or excess worries
  • Lack of nutrients, such as deficiencies in zinc, iron, vitamin B1, B9, B6, B2 and B12
  • Dentures, especially the materials used in dentures irritate tissues and also put stress on muscles and tissues of the mouth
  • Allergies to foods, food additives, dyes, flavorings, etc
  • Nerve damage to those controlling pain and taste in the tongue
  • Certain medications, especially angiotensin converting enzyme inhibitors, the high blood pressure medications
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (reflux of stomach acid) which enters into the mouth through upper gastrointestinal tract
  • Endocrine disorders such as underactive thyroid and diabetes
  • Teeth and tongue conditions like teeth grinding and thrush
  • Excess irritation in the mouth that results from overuse of mouthwashes, having too many acidic drinks and vigorous teeth brushing
  • Imbalances in the hormonal levels associated with menopause

Symptoms of Burning Tongue Syndrome

There are many symptoms associated with burning tongue syndrome, most notably the pain or burning sensation. Symptoms include:

  • Burning sensation on the tongue, gums, lips, throat, palate and entire mouth
  • Numb or tingling sensation on the tongue tip or mouth
  • Sensation of dry mouth
  • Gradual worsening of the mouth pain
  • Sore mouth
  • Thirsty feeling
  • Metallic or bitter changes in the taste
  • Loss of taste

The pain and burning sensation in this syndrome has various patterns. The pain is usually mild when you woke up, progressively becomes intense during the day, worst in the evening and subsides at night. Or the pain occurs in bouts throughout the day.

Burning tongue syndrome may last for several months to years. In some conditions, the symptoms subside and go away on their own. This will not cause any physical changes on the tongue.

Treatment for Burning Tongue Syndrome

There is no definite way of treating burning tongue syndrome. Treatment only depends on the causes or underlying conditions and the symptoms of the condition. While the actual cause is treated, the symptoms of the syndrome turn better.

If the proper cause is not known, the treatment is very challenging. You have to try various treatments before finding the right treatment which is helpful in relieving the pain and burning sensation. Treatment options are –

  • Alpha-lipoic acid, a strong antioxidant naturally produced in the body
  • Anticonvulsant medications
  • Certain antidepressants
  • Oral thrush medications
  • B vitamins
  • Medicated mouthwashes and oral rinses
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy
  • Capsaicin, derived from chili peppers, pain reliever
  • Saliva replacement medications

Care / Prevention of Burning Tongue Syndrome

There is no way to prevent this syndrome. You can only try some self care tips to ease the pain and burning sensation.  Avoid irritating substances like spicy, hot and salty foods, alcohol containing mouthwashes, alcohol and tobacco products. Rather suck on ice chips, sip water often, chew sugarless gums and brush your teeth with baking soda water mixture. These measures reduce or prevent the syndrome from getting worst.