Nervous System Damage During Menopause Linked to Burning Mouth Syndrome

Patient Expert

Who knew that changes that result from going through menopause could be the culprit that causes some women to have a painful mouth? New research that's just been published in the May/June 29011 issue of General Dentistry has linked damage to a woman's nervous system that may occur during menopause to "burning mouth syndrome" (BMS).

Almost 5% of the United States population has reported having a constant burning sensation that is most commonly experienced on the top of the tongue, lower lip and roof of the mouth. The Mayo Clinic website stated, €œBurning mouth syndrome causes chronic burning pain in your mouth. The pain from burning mouth syndrome may affect your tongue, gums, lips, inside of your cheeks, roof of your mouth, or widespread areas of your whole mouth. The pain can be severe, as if you scalded your mouth."

Researchers are not sure what causes BMS, although they believe it is a neuropathic condition. "For reasons unknown, it seems that the BMS patient's nerves are not sending and/or processing information correctly there's a short circuit in the nervous system and the brain can't turn off the pain receptors," said Dr. Gary D. Klasser, who led the research study. Although BMS has been experienced by both men and women, researchers have found that menopausal and postmenopausal women are seven times more likely to be affected by this pain. "For a small percentage of women, it is these hormonal changes that may alter taste and the way in which a person interprets pain. The alterations may be enough to start the cascade of events that lead to BMS," Dr. Klasser stated.

Many health practitioners have difficulty diagnosing and managing BMS since there are no physical signs of the syndrome.   The Mayo Clinic noted that there are two types of BMS. Primary BMS is when the cause of the syndrome is not known. Secondary BMS is caused by underlying medical factors, such as oral conditions, psychological factors, dentures, and nutritional deficiencies.

The syndrome usually begins spontaneously. People who suffer from BMS also describe difficulty sleeping and eating, irritability, depression, anxiety, decreased socializing, and impaired relationships, according to the Mayo Clinic. Because there is no test to determine BMS, health practitioners must rule out other health issues before making a diagnosis. The diagnosis process can include blood tests, oral cultures, imaging, allergy tests, salivary measurements, psychological questionnaires, and gastric reflux tests.

Topical and systemic medications are available to treat BMS. Researchers also suggest that people suffering from BMS can make lifestyle changes that may ease the discomfort. These changes include drinking water regularly and chewing sugarless gum to keep the mouth lubricated and saliva flowing. In addition, people with BMS should avoid spicy, hot and acidic foods that may make the symptoms worse as well as tobacco and alcohol products that may irritate oral tissue. The Mayo Clinic also recommends practicing relaxation exercises, joining a pain support group, engaging in pleasurable activities, and staying socially active.