Burning mouth syndrome (BMS) or glossodynia, is described as a sudden facial and oral pain characterized as burning, scalding, tingling, or numbness. Often pain increases throughout the day, and can last for months or even years. It is a complex condition with many possible root causes, which often means that diagnosis remains challenging. Therapeutics are equally difficult. Symptom relief and pain management for BMS can be VERY frustrating!
Like many complex but common syndromes, there’s not much traditional (classic) western medicine can do. Many people seek out the care of a dentist or an internist, yet these doctors don’t seem to really understand. They mostly prescribe medications to provide temporary relief, such as lidocane sprays, other topical, drugs for nerve pain, or antidepressants. Some will refer to a psychiatrist, thinking that the symptoms are “imagined”. Many syndromes, which present as a set of symptoms, are often regarded as “less real” than something that can be SEEN, such as lesions on the tongue. Diagnosis in such cases is based on what the patient reports that he or she is experiencing, unfortunately.
With BMS, sometimes there is no obvious visible sign of abnormality. Often the tip and sides of the tongue will appear red, which is still considered “normal” in traditional medicine. In TCM, the tongue is an “indicator light” which can provide valuable information about the overall state of your health.
In Functional Medicine, we don’t just observe what has manifested visibly, but how the body FUNCTIONS and performs. Pain is one way to measure the health and function of the body, long before obvious changes occur on a cellular, tissue, organ, and structural level.
Let’s face it: BMS symptoms are real, and the pain is real. Certainly stress can play a role in BMS, since the body and mind are intimately interconnected. Remember, Functional medicine and functional acupuncture are about being proactive in treating chronic or “idiopathic” conditions, rather than WAITING for lesions to occur in the first place!
The symptoms of BMS often appear suddenly, and are often linked to:
- Autoimmune disease
- Poor gut health
- Nutritional deficiencies
- Food intolerances
- Hormonal changes, such as those seen in menopause
- The aftermath of some viruses
- Side effects from certain dental procedures
- Side effects from certain medications (some of which may be prescribed to treat)
- Stress, either prolonged or sudden onset due to a stressful period or traumatic event
From a classical (traditional) medical perspective, when symptoms arise to a condition such as diabetes or side effects from chemotherapy, BMS is considered a secondary condition, and treating the primary disorder is the main objective. Primary (or idiopathic) BMS isn’t a result of an underlying condition. Symptoms are often unexplained and appear suddenly from “nowhere.” However, this is just a starting point at Blossom Health. There may be some “detective work” involved in getting relief from burning mouth syndrome, but there IS hope!
From an FM perspective, we consider nutritional deficiencies, food intolerances, and hormone imbalances, which are often the “root cause” of the pain and burning sensations in BMS.
Stress, both in the form of mental and emotional stress as well as physical stresses in the form of illness or poor diet, can create nutritional deficiencies, which can contribute to the pain of BMS. My strategy for treating BMS often includes regular acupuncture, Chinese herbal formulas, and certain supplements like Alpha Lipoic Acid, B12, probiotics, D3 and others.
Fortunately, BMS is starting to become noticed in the mainstream as a “real” condition. Studies are showing that acupuncture can provide relief for mouth and tongue pain, and can help regulate blood flow to affected areas, which provides significant symptom relief in many cases. Acupuncture is a strong part of my toolkit here at Blossom Health in Lexington.
I also take gut health into consideration, as often the root cause of burning mouth syndrome is linked to poor diet and poor gut health. Although acupuncture and supplements are very helpful, it’s important that patients be “on board” with making dietary and lifestyle changes in order to ensure a successful outcome.
My approach: to combine traditional acupuncture with Functional Medicine to provide relief for burning mouth syndrome.
Sharon Pruss, L.Ac.