“Burning Mouth Syndrome,” also known as BMS, is a chronic, burning sensation inside the mouth, usually in the lips, tongue or palate. It’s common in postmenopausal women, and affects up to 7 percent of the general population. BMS has been compared to the feeling of a sunburn inside the mouth, similar to the pain caused by a tooth infection or a root canal. One woman had experienced this pain for six months. Doctors tested her saliva for the virus that causes oral herpes, the herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1). The virus commonly causes cold sores around the mouth and lips, but the woman didn’t have any cold sores. However, the tests showed that the woman’s saliva was swarming with the infectious particles. Most people don’t think of HSV-1 as the potential cause of burning mouth syndrome, so they don’t test for it. But it’s easily treatable with antiviral medication.
Estimates vary, but up to 70 percent of people worldwide may be infected with HSV-1. This herpes simplex virus is spread through kissing, intimate contact, or sharing objects such as toothbrushes or towels, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In most infected people, the virus never becomes activated. When the virus is activated — typically due to stress or a suppressed immune system — it usually causes cold soresthat eventually go away on their own.
But sometimes, the virus can reactivate without causing cold sores, as this woman’s case above demonstrates. Instead, it infects the facial nerves, most commonly the trigeminal ganglion, which provides sensation in the face and mouth.
It was unclear as to why the herpes virus reactivated in the woman, but researchers speculated that it might have been due to hormonal fluctuations, because she was postmenopausal.
HSV-1 may be the culprit for a number of unexplained medical symptoms besides burning mouth syndrome. In rare cases, the virus can cause encephalitis, a type of brain inflammation that can cause significant brain damage or death if not treated promptly, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Do you have burning sensations in your mouth? Call Brit Phillips DDS Fort Worth for all of your dental concerns.