Burning mouth syndrome

Burning mouth syndrome (BMS) affects over a million Americans. It has no known cause or otherwise it would not be called a syndrome. For example, burning pain in the mouth due to chemotherapy damage to the mouth lining is called oral mucositis. This condition is not related to migraines, but just like with migraines, three times as many women suffer from BMS than men. Some people with BMS have a sensation of having sand in their mouth and itching, in addition to the burning pain. The pain can be very intense and can persist for many months. A recent study by Italian researchers published in the journal Headache examined 53 patients with with BMS and compared them to 51 healthy volunteers. They discovered that patients with BMS were much more likely to have anxiety and depression than the healthy controls. This is not surprising since patients with chronic headaches or pain of any kind are also more likely to be anxious and depressed. This does not mean that the pain is a manifestation of depression, as suggested by the authors.
A more interesting study of BMS in the same issue of Headache was published by Brazilian doctors. They treated 26 patients with mechanical stimulation of their mouth in order to increase the flow of saliva. This was achieved by having patients chew on a rubbery stick for ten minutes three times a day for 90 days. This resulted in a significant reduction of pain, even though the amount of saliva produced did not increase. In addition to improvement in pain, they also had fewer burning sites in the mouth and their taste improved as well.
Another approached that has been used to increase the flow of saliva reported in the medical literature is to stimulate salivary gland with a transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS). The TENS electrodes are applied to the skin over the parotid salivary glands. There has been no reports of using TENS for the treatment of BMS, but considering that it is a safe and inexpensive treatment, it may be worth a try.

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