Please note: This information was current at the time of publication but now may be out of date. This handout provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. For regularly updated information on a variety of health topics, please visit familydoctor.org, the AAFP patient education website.

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Am Fam Physician. 2002;65(4):622

What is burning mouth syndrome?

Burning mouth syndrome (called BMS, for short) is a common problem. People with BMS often feel like they burned their mouth with hot coffee. They may also have a dry mouth, or a bitter or metallic taste in their mouth.

Men and women can get BMS; however, it is especially common in women during or after menopause.

What causes BMS?

For many years, doctors thought psychological problems, like depression and anxiety, were the cause of BMS. Researchers now think that a problem in the nerves that control taste and pain in the tongue might cause BMS.

How can my doctor tell if I have BMS?

There is no simple way to test for BMS. Your doctor may look for a problem in your mouth that might be causing a burning feeling. Maybe your doctor will find such a problem; if the burning feeling doesn't go away after the problem is treated, your doctor may have you take a medicine.

How is BMS usually treated?

You might be given a medicine that has an effect on the nerves in the tongue. These medicines include tricyclic antidepressants like amitriptyline (brand name: Elavil) and benzodiazepines like clonazepam (brand name: Klonopin) or chlordiazepoxide (brand name: Librium). It is not clear why these medicines help. It may be that they change the taste system. Capsaicin (hot pepper) mouth rinses may help some people with BMS.

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