Burning Mouth Syndrome: A Functional Medicine Look At This Increasingly Pervasive Health Problem
In my telehealth functional medicine clinic, patients come to me with a variety of unexplained symptoms. But what a conventional doctor might overlook, is often a sign of an underlying health problem.
One of these elusive cases is something called burning mouth syndrome. As this condition is becoming more prevalent, functional medicine is just starting to understand the mechanisms by which this condition develops. So if you’ve struggled with burning mouth syndrome yourself or are simply curious, let’s take a deeper look.
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What is burning mouth syndrome?
Burning mouth syndrome seems to appear out of nowhere with symptoms primarily being a burning sensation throughout the entire mouth - similar to the feeling of being burned with hot water.
This pain can start off small and gradually increase throughout the day, ebb and flow throughout the day, or last all day at a steady level. But regardless of how the symptoms manifest, those who suffer from BMS are left feeling hopeless as it is not fully understood what causes BMS in the first place and therefore specific treatments are non-existent.
Other symptoms associated with burning mouth syndrome include:
- Loss of taste
- Dry mouth
- Increased thirst
- Bitter or metallic taste
- Burning sensation that spreads to the tongue, gums, lips, and inside of cheeks
Types of burning mouth syndrome
BMS is classified into two types depending on what is believed to be the cause:
This type of BMS isn’t linked to any identifiable clinical abnormalities and doesn’t have a known trigger. With that being said, early research is starting to look at the connection between this condition and an autoimmune-inflammatory response in the central nervous system.
This type of BMS can develop from another primary health problem such as:
- Medication induced dry mouth
- Mouth irritation from oral products or acidic foods
- Fungal infections in the mouth
- Chronic trauma or stress
A functional medicine perspective
In functional medicine, we understand that there is always an underlying cause to any health problem - even in the case of primary burning mouth syndrome - usually caused by some sort of imbalance in the body.
Functional medicine has seen a link between BMS and other primary health problems such as:
- Nutrient deficiencies
- Ongoing stress
- Autoimmune diseases
By assessing your health history and risk factors, we are able to help those struggling with BMS with natural tools.
1. Lab work
Since autoimmune-inflammation and stress are closely linked to BMS, we want to start with labwork to rule out whether or not this is a key factor in your health case. Homocysteine, autoimmune-reactivity, and hs-CRP can give us insight into your inflammation levels whereas a a cortisol awakening response test looks at both stress and inflammation levels.
Additionally, tool tests to look at gut microbiome health can give further insight into other inflammatory triggers like chronic infections, gut dysbiosis, and mold toxins.
There has recently been evidence that burning mouth syndrome is linked to vitamin D deficiency. (1) Supplementing with this, along with vitamins B and zinc, - which have been shown to alleviate symptoms - could be beneficial in long-term relief. (2)
3. Comprehensive health history
Every system in your body is inextricably linked. By completing a comprehensive health history we are able to look at every angle and identify any possible trigger to inflammation and BMS symptoms. These are a few of the areas we look at:
- Past trauma: Growing up in a stressful environment or living through a traumatic event can have lasting implications on your health
- Toxin exposure: Environmental toxins in your products, home, and work environments can be unknowingly contributing to health problems
- Home and work environments: Moldy buildings or exposure to air pollution can take a toll on your body
- Medications: Medications can contribute to ongoing symptoms through their implications on hormones, gut health, and more
In functional medicine, we look at food as foundational for healing and overcoming health problems. Ultimately, in cases of BMS we want to avoid foods that trigger inflammation such as gluten, sugar, artificial sweeteners, and industrially processed seed oils.
However, every person’s individual inflammatory triggers are going to be different. That is why I advise anyone - especially in cases of BMS - to complete an elimination diet with their doctor to determine your specific inflammatory trigger foods. You can also check out my book The Inflammation Spectrum, to learn more.
As for foods to focus on, I recommend leaning into foods rich in vitamins B and D such as:
- Cod liver oil
- Grass-fed beef
- Dark leafy greens
We are continuing to learn more about burning mouth syndrome and its causes each day. By looking at this condition through the lens of functional medicine, we can begin to put the pieces together, identify triggers, and come up with practical, natural solutions to give hope and healing to those struggling with this condition.
If you think you are struggling with burning mouth syndrome, as one of the first functional medicine telehealth clinics in the world, we provide webcam health consultations for people around the globe.
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- Morr Verenzuela, Claudia S et al. “Burning mouth syndrome: results of screening tests for vitamin and mineral deficiencies, thyroid hormone, and glucose levels-experience at Mayo Clinic over a decade.” International journal of dermatology vol. 56,9 (2017): 952-956. doi:10.1111/ijd.13634
- Jankovskis, Viktors, and Guntars Selga. “Vitamin B and Zinc Supplements and Capsaicin Oral Rinse Treatment Options for Burning Mouth Syndrome.” Medicina (Kaunas, Lithuania) vol. 57,4 391. 17 Apr. 2021, doi:10.3390/medicina57040391
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BY DR. WILL COLE
Dr. Will Cole, IFMCP, DNM, DC, leading functional medicine expert, consults people around the world via webcam and locally in Pittsburgh. He received his doctorate from Southern California University of Health Sciences and post doctorate education and training in functional medicine and clinical nutrition. He specializes in clinically researching underlying factors of chronic disease and customizing a functional medicine approach for thyroid issues, autoimmune conditions, hormonal imbalances, digestive disorders, and brain problems. Dr. Cole was named one of the top 50 functional medicine and integrative doctors in the nation and is the best selling author of Ketotarian and The Inflammation Spectrum.