Oral pain expert Andres Pinto, who recently joined Case Western Reserve University's School of Dental Medicine faculty, said what frustrates patients and doctors alike is that the mouth and gums appear normal with BMS, so the diagnosis is difficult. Patients often find themselves having to visit several doctors before finally arriving at BMS as the cause, Pinto said.
Pinto, the new chairman and associate professor in the Department of Oral Diagnosis and Radiology at the dental school and an oral medical specialist in the Department of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery at UH Case Medical Center, said the condition has baffled dental researchers since the 1970s when burning oral sensations were linked to mucosal, periodontal and restorative disorders, and mental or emotional causes.
Two percent to 5 percent of the U.S. population suffers from BMS, especially women 50-70 and from three years before to 12 years after menopause, Pinto says.
However, the suspected origin is deterioration of the nerves beneath the oral lining, and since the deterioration isn't visible, it explains why the mouth appears normal when examined, consequently delaying diagnosis, Pinto explains. Still unproven is the role hormones may play, given the link to menopause, Pinto said.
Pinto encourages people with persistent mouth pain to check for the following symptoms:
-- Persistent burning tongue and oral pain with no apparent dental cause.
-- Abnormal taste or dry feeling in the mouth.
-- Symptoms that disappear when eating.
-- Burning sensations that may migrate across several oral areas.
Even if oral pain is present without these symptoms, Pinto recommended consulting a dentist for a thorough exam of the teeth, gums, mouth and throat.
The pain from BMS often results in quality of life issues, from poor nutrition to withdrawing from social situations and in some cases, the pain is so severe it has driven people to commit suicide, Pinto said.
Patients can receive relief with special mouthwashes, painkillers such as acetaminophen, and other topical and systemic treatments.
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