Harvard Women's Health Watch

Burning mouth syndrome

If you've ever scalded your tongue, you've gotten a small taste of what it's like to have this painful and frustrating disorder.

Burning mouth syndrome (BMS) is an aptly named but poorly understood pain disorder that disproportionately affects women of all races and backgrounds, mostly at midlife. It's considered a benign condition — in other words, it doesn't endanger health. But that may be scant comfort for a woman who constantly feels as though her mouth has been burned by hot coffee or tea.

For years, BMS has exasperated people who suffer from the disorder and perplexed physicians and researchers. According to Harvard School of Dental Medicine's Dr. Sook-Bin Woo, who has treated people with burning mouth symptoms at the Center for Oral Disease at Boston's Brigham and Women's Hospital, many patients "have gone from the dentist to the oral surgeon to the ENT [ear, nose, and throat] doctor to the dermatologist to the primary care doctor to the rheumatologist. They've just gone everywhere, and nothing has really helped them."

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