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Sticking It to Burning Mouth Syndrome

Posted Mar 13 2013 10:34am

One thing can be said for medical and dental terms that come directly from Greek and Latin: as serious as they may sound, they seldom gross you out the way a description can. “Oral myiasis,” for instance, is a heck of a lot nicer to think about than “fly larvae feasting on your spit and the soft tissues of your mouth.”

stuck_tongue So maybe if we called it “glossodynia,” Burning Mouth Syndrome (BMS) might not sound quite so horrifying.

At least the name lets you know right away what it is: a burning sensation throughout the mouth, including the palate, gums, tongue, cheeks and even the back of the throat. It may be accompanied by dry mouth, numbness or a metallic taste. Though as many as 5% of Americans will experience BMS at some point in their lives, women are especially susceptible during and after menopause.

Because there are several conditions that can trigger BMS-like symptoms – diabetes, nutritional deficiency, acid reflux and others – “BMS” is the term of choice when no definite cause has been found.

Whatever the cause, a recent pilot study in Pain Practice suggests that acupuncture may help.

Ten BMS patients – mostly older women – were evaluated before and after 20 sessions of acupuncture over an 8 week span. Overall, they experienced a slight but statistically significant reduction in pain. Although there was “no significant improvement” in health-related quality of life scores, “subjects receiving acupuncture treatment seemed better able cope with their oral symptoms.”

And for those suffering BMS, that’s no small achievement.

Interestingly, an earlier and larger study showed an even more positive result. Published in the British Dental Journal, it ultimately found acupuncture to be “a valid therapeutic choice” in the treatment of BMS.

The study shows that acupuncture influences oral microcirculation, resulting in a significant variation of the vascular pattern to which is associated a significant reduction of the burning sensation after three weeks of therapy. Such reduction of the burning sensation has been permanent for the 18 months following the acupuncture therapy.

No doubt, there will be further studies down the line.

Image by nhanusek , via Flickr


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