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Nutritional Support for Burning Mouth Syndrome

Although Burning Mouth Syndrome is mysterious, supplements of certain essential vitamins and minerals may help ease the pain.

Have you ever burned your mouth on hot tea or coffee? What about food that was unexpectedly hot right out of the microwave, such as pizza or a hot pocket? Such burns can be uncomfortable, but they usually heal quickly, within a day or two. Now imagine feeling like you had burned your mouth every day for months or even years. It has a medical name: burning mouth syndrome or BMS for short. People often complain that their lips, tongue or mouth feel as if they were burned, even though there are no obvious signs of irritation or inflammation.

What Does Burning Mouth Syndrome Feel Like?

One reader described the agony:

“For about 18 months I’ve had a dry mouth, and I suck on ice cubes constantly. Now my tongue burns, as if I had burned my mouth on hot food. Food doesn’t taste right, and I have a very bitter taste in my mouth. My mouth is so dry it’s horrible!”

Another wrote:

“I too have experienced burning mouth and tongue. I thought it was heartburn, but famotidine did not help, nor did dietary changes. I have lost over 20 pounds, as I cannot eat due to the burning in my mouth, throat and chest.”

Most sufferers would agree with this sentiment:

“Help! Help! Help! I can’t live with this Burning Mouth Syndrome.”

Doctors are frequently puzzled by such symptoms. That’s because there is no obvious cause. The cure is equally mysterious. We heard from a reader who was at her wits’ end because no health professional could offer any relief.

Q. Four months ago I woke up with the tip of my tongue burning. My doctor prescribed antifungal drugs, first Diflucan and then Mycelex, which provided no relief.

Now the roof of my mouth is also burning. Do you know what causes this or what can be done about it? I have had zero success with prescribed medications.

Could Supplements Ease Symptoms?

A. You may want to ask your doctor if you could have “burning mouth syndrome” (BMS). Although this condition is mysterious (no cause or cure have been identified), researchers have noted that it is associated with lower levels of magnesium (Journal of Oral Pathology & Medicine, March, 2009) and vitamin B12 (European Journal of Medical Research, Sept. 28, 2001). Acid-suppressing drugs have been linked to lower levels of vitamin B12 and BMS.

Ask your physician to measure both magnesium and vitamin B12 to see whether your levels are low. If so, perhaps dietary supplements might ease your symptoms.

Readers’ Remedies for Burning Mouth Syndrome:

We have heard from readers who suggested a wide variety of remedies.

One wrote:

“Some years ago, I too had this awful malady. I went to my dentist, my primary care physician, and an Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) doctor for help. No one could find a reason, but my ENT gave me a ‘swish and spit’ mouthwash that would work temporarily. This went on for almost two years.

“One day, while in my local natural food store, I was looking at the toothpaste. On one of the boxes, I saw something about SLS (sodium lauryl sulfate). It said that this ingredient may cause mouth burning or mouth irritation in some people. I started the new SLS-free toothpaste that afternoon and within a couple of days, all of the burning disappeared. I brought this information to my ENT, who knew nothing about SLS.”

Another person also found relief at the health food store:

“I have burning mouth syndrome and found a great solution. I started taking red raspberry leaf a few years ago. It took about six months, but as long as I avoid spicy foods, I have no more pain.”

We also heard from a victim who has found a helpful dietary supplement:

“I suffered from burning mouth syndrome for nearly a year until I stumbled on a study that recommended alpha-lipoic acid as a remedy. I take 600 mg daily, and it works!”

Another reader says,

“I suffered from burning mouth syndrome for over a year. I tried many things to get help and saw all the usual doctors. I finally read something obscure and thought ‘Why not?’

“The article suggested rinsing my mouth with some baking soda in water. Within two days I got relief. My BMS went away and has not returned. Was that the answer? I don’t know. I don’t understand why that would help. I just know it worked for me.”

Scientific Studies of Treatments for BMS:

Unfortunately, few investigators have conducted well-designed clinical trials on potential treatments. A systematic review of 22 randomized controlled trials found that some evidence supports cognitive behavior therapy, topical capsaicin and the anticonvulsant drug clonazepam (Cephalalgia, Feb. 2022). In addition, alpha-lipoic acid shows modest benefit that seems to get stronger over time. Scientists need more and better studies of that supplement to truly judge its effectiveness for burning mouth syndrome (European Review for Medical and Pharmaceutical Sciences, Nov. 2021).

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies..
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