Burning Mouth Syndrome: New Study Sheds Light on Mysterious Condition

It's a gritty, sandy, metallic, annoying sensation in the mouth. It isn't necessarily painful, but the sensation still makes the tongue feel like it's burning.

The condition, called burning mouth syndrome, affects nearly 5 percent of people in the United States and a new, small study shows that it could be partly linked with menopause.

Burning mouth syndrome affects menopausal women seven times more than it affects men, said study researcher Gary D. Klasser, an associate professor in the department of comprehensive dentistry at Louisiana State University.

There's no known cause, nor is there a cure, for the syndrome, Klasser said. But it's possible that decreasing hormone levels during menopause that affect taste buds could also increase the sensitivity of pain receptors in the mouth, leading some women to develop burning mouth syndrome, he said. Most of the women in the study who were eventually diagnosed with the syndrome experienced the onset of symptoms three years before hitting menopause and up to 12 years after.

"We certainly know that pain and taste have connections in our brains, and so that's one theory as to why menopause may be the initiating factor for having burning mouth syndrome," Klasser told MyHealthNewsDaily.

However, researchers still don't know how and why men can also develop burning mouth syndrome, he said.

Klasser looked at the health records of 49 people who were eventually diagnosed with the syndrome and found that it took an average of 41 months for the patients to be diagnosed with the syndrome. This shows that many doctors and dentists aren't familiar with the signs and symptoms of burning mouth syndrome, he said.

Burning mouth syndrome is often mistaken for other conditions such as fungal infection or an autoimmune disorder, he said. Many of the people in the study were on antifungal medications, presumably because they were misdiagnosed in the first place, Klasser said.

The syndrome is not dangerous or deadly, but it does impact quality of life, he said.

"It's not fun. You become withdrawn, don't want to socialize and you start feeling sorry for yourself," Klasser said. "You might develop a low self esteem . It spirals out of control."

There is no cure for burning mouth syndrome, but there are management strategies to keep the sensation to a minimum, he said, which include behavioral interventions and medications.

However, much more research is needed to shed light on the syndrome, Klasser said.

The study was published in the May/June issue of the journal General Dentistry.

Pass it on: Burning mouth syndrome is often misdiagnosed as a fungal infection or an autoimmune disorder.

Follow MyHealthNewsDaily staff writer Amanda Chan on Twitter @AmandaLChan.

Amanda Chan
Amanda Chan was a staff writer for Live Science Health. She holds a bachelor's degree in journalism and mass communication from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University, and a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University.