Dental Question: I have had a burning tongue for the last 6 months or so and don’t know what to do about it. I am a 60 year old female and wonder what it caused from. Could you please provide some information for me to treat this irritating and painful situation
Answer: If you have a perfectly normal looking tongue, but as the day wears on, the burning sometimes seems to progress. You may even experience some tastes that have no apparent cause. If you are having these mysterious and irritating sensations, you may be suffering from burning tongue syndrome, also known as burning mouth.
Causes and Possible Solutions
Although burning tongue is not a common condition, sufferers are generally older women. Only about four or five percent of American adults suffer from it. It’s not known exactly what causes the condition, although there are many factors. In some cases, more than one cause may be at work.
Sometimes the cause is as simple as irritation from various sources. One culprit may be your toothpaste or mouth rinse. To test this, switch toothpastes to a plain fluoride toothpaste, without any tartar-control or tooth-whitening ingredients. Also, stop using any mouth rinses except plain water or salt water. If you wear dentures or other oral appliances, they may be irritating to mouth tissues and contributing to burning mouth. If you suspect this, let us know right away so we can check them out and adjust them as necessary. Another source of irritation is acidic drinks, like soda pop, citrus, and tomato beverages. Try eliminating them from your diet, and see if your symptoms improve.
Certain hormone-related conditions can also be causes. Fluctuating hormone levels during menopause can lead to burning mouth, and the high blood sugar levels that occur with diabetes can also be irritating to oral tissues. Managing these conditions can sometimes help relieve burning mouth symptoms.
Another thing to consider is medications that you may have begun taking at about the time your symptoms began. Some drugs can cause burning tongue as a side effect. One example is angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors, which are prescribed to treat high blood pressure. Other medications, like certain antidepressants and diuretics, can cause dry mouth, which can lead to a burning sensation. Talking with your physician about changing medications may do the trick.
There is some speculation that burning mouth syndrome is caused by damage or irritation to the nerves that control taste and sensation on the tongue and mouth. Some medications for controlling the nervous system, such as antidepressants, anticonvulsants, or pain medications, can help. Your physician may be able to prescribe these for you after a thorough exam.
Some people have experienced relief by rinsing their mouths with water and capsaicin (sometimes called capsicum). Capsaicin is the ingredient that makes hot peppers hot, and it’s used in pain-relief creams meant for treating nerve and muscle pain. You can try mixing about one part hot sauce with two or three parts water, rinsing your mouth with the mixture, and then spitting it out. Start by doing this every two or three hours for the first day or two, then tapering off to once or twice a day. Rinsing with this mixture will probably cause a burning sensation, and it’s thought that this burning temporarily interferes with the body chemicals that transmit pain messages. If you try this, though, be very careful. Once you get out the hot sauce and start working with it, don’t touch your nose or eyes until you’ve spit the mixture out and washed your hands thoroughly. Also, some people are sensitive to capsaicin, so if the burning is severe, stop using it immediately.
There are some other coping methods that may bring relief. If you drink alcoholic products or smoke, try to stop because these both irritate and dry out oral tissues. Avoid cinnamon and mint products. Chewing sugar-free gum or sucking on sugar-free candies or ice chips might also help. Vitamin deficiencies can be a contributing factor, so try taking a multivitamin supplement if you’re not doing that already.
If you’re suffering from burning in your mouth, let us know. We’ll want to check your mouth for sores, irritations, or other conditions that might be causing the pain. In some cases, we may want to work with your physician in determining the best course of treatment for you.