A Matter of Misdiagnosis

If you’ve ever burned your mouth on a spoonful of scalding soup or a too-hot sip of coffee, you know the results are painful – but temporary. But, what if you had to live with this discomfort day in and day out?

People living with burning mouth syndrome experience precisely that.

Burning mouth syndrome is a condition that causes sufferers to feel as if their mouth is burning, scalding or tingling all the time. Some sufferers also experience a metallic taste in their mouth or chronic dry mouth as a result of the condition.

What Causes Burning Mouth Syndrome?

The condition has been linked to other health problems, such as autoimmune diseases like Sjogren’s syndrome or lupus. It has also been linked to yeast infections of the mouth, known medically as thrush.

It can affect the entire mouth, or just some areas of the mouth, including the tongue, gums, lips, palate and cheeks.

It can be chronic or short-lived.

In most cases, the specific cause of BMS cannot be determined. Still, researchers at the School of Dental Medicine at Case Western Reserve University say that in many cases, BMS is misdiagnosed.

‘The symptoms of BMS and other conditions can be very similar,’ said Dr. Sean Endsley, a dentist in Waco, Texas.

Misdiagnosis comes about because of the effects of the condition and what is happening to the patient around the time symptoms develop.

Misdiagnosis is a problem, because patients may receive treatment for the wrong condition or just for side effects and not for the heart of the problem.

‘Which means patients continue to live in discomfort,’ Endsley said.

One condition that is frequently confused with BMS is xerostomia, or chronic dry mouth.

‘Chronic dry mouth can also feel like burning – and if it happens to you regularly, it sounds a lot like BMS,’ Endsley said.

Another issue in diagnosis of BMS stems from the fact that many dentists and clinicians aren’t very well trained on spotting the condition. They then rule out other health issues and settle on the BMS diagnosis prematurely.

Some conditions known to cause symptoms similar to BMS include diabetes and anemia, and in some cases nerve dysfunction plays a role.

Treating BMS involves increasing water consumption, use of saliva replacement products, use of oral rinses or lidocaine, and prescription anticonvulsant medications or medications that block nerve pain.

For some individuals, chewing gum or using sugar-free mints can help reduce painful symptoms.

Who Gets BMS?

Researchers estimate that between .1 and 4 percent of the United States population is affected by BMS, with more women affected than men.

Researchers hope to develop a single definition of BMS along with inclusion or exclusion criteria to help medical providers diagnose the condition correctly.

Source: Case Western Reserve University. ‘Are you sure it’s burning mouth syndrome? New research urges more rigorous standards when diagnosing.’ ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 3 July 2019.