Have you ever felt a hot, burning sensation in your mouth—like it had been scalded—but you didn't eat or drink anything that could have caused it?
While you may think you’re hallucinating, there’s another possibility: Burning Mouth Syndrome (BMS). This condition, which can last for years, produces sensations in the mouth of not only scalding or burning, but also tingling, numbness and a decline in your ability to taste. Patients may feel it throughout their mouth or only in localized areas like the lips, tongue or inside the cheeks.
The exact cause of BMS is also something of a mystery. It’s been theoretically linked to diabetes, vitamin or mineral deficiencies and psychological problems. Because it’s most common among women of menopausal age hormonal changes have been proposed as a factor, although hormone replacement therapy often doesn’t produce any symptomatic relief for BMS.
To complicate matters, other conditions often share the condition’s effects, which need to be ruled out first to arrive at a BMS diagnosis. A feeling of scalding could be the result of mouth dryness, caused by medications or systemic conditions that inhibit saliva flow. Some denture wearers may display some of the symptoms of BMS due to an allergic reaction to denture materials; others may have a similar reaction to the foaming agent sodium lauryl sulfate found in some toothpaste that can irritate the skin inside the mouth.
If these other possibilities can be ruled out, then you may have BMS. While unfortunately there’s no cure for the condition, there are ways to lessen its impact. There’s even the possibility that it will resolve itself over time.
Until then, keep your mouth moist by drinking lots of water or using saliva-stimulating products, limiting alcohol, caffeinated drinks or spicy foods and refraining from smoking. If you’re taking medications that could cause dry mouth, speak with your physician about changing to an alternative. And try to reduce stress in your life through exercise, mindfulness practices or support groups.
While BMS isn’t considered harmful to your physical health it can make life less enjoyable. Careful symptom management may help improve your quality of life.
If you would like more information on Burning Mouth Syndrome, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Burning Mouth Syndrome: A Painful Puzzle.”
The mouth isn’t an island unto itself — problems there may be indicative of deeper physical or emotional issues. Â The condition of a family member’s teeth and gums, for example, could be signs of bulimia, an eating disorder.
Characterized by food binging and purging through self-induced vomiting, bulimia can also have a severe effect on the teeth. Regular inducement of vomiting introduces stomach acid into the mouth that can attack and soften the mineral content of tooth enamel. As a result, 90% of bulimics develop enamel erosion.
The erosion pattern often differs from that produced by other high acid causes like the over-consumption of sodas. Because the tongue instinctively covers the back of the bottom teeth during vomiting, they’re often shielded from much of the acid wash. Bulimics are much more apt to exhibit heavier erosion on the upper front teeth, particularly on the tongue side and biting edges.
Bulimia and similar disorders produce other signs as well, like soft tissue ulceration or swollen salivary glands that exhibit puffiness of the face. The roof of the mouth, throat and back of the tongue may appear roughened from the use of fingers or objects to induce gagging.
Unlike sufferers of anorexia nervosa who tend to be negligent about their hygiene (which itself increases their risk of dental disease), bulimics have a heightened sensitivity to their appearance. This concern may prompt them to aggressively brush right after purging, which can cause more of the softened enamel to be removed.
Treating the dental consequences of bulimia requires a two-pronged approach. In the short term, we want to lessen the impact of stomach acid by discouraging the person from brushing immediately after purging — better to rinse with water and a little baking soda to buffer the acid and wait about an hour before brushing. We may also suggest a sodium fluoride mouth rinse to help strengthen and re-mineralize the enamel.
In the long-term, though, the disorder itself must be addressed through professional help. One good source is the National Eating Disorders website (nationaleatingdisorders.org). Besides information, the association also provides a toll-free helpline for referrals to professionals.
As with any eating disorder, bulimia can be trying for patients and their families. Addressing the issue gently but forthrightly will begin their journey toward the renewal of health, including their teeth and gums.
If you would like more information on the effect of eating disorders on dental health, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Bulimia, Anorexia & Oral Health.”
As dentists, we often see other mouth problems besides those with teeth and gums. One of the most common is cracking around the corners of the mouth. Although usually not serious, it can be irritating and uncomfortable.
Medically known as angular cheilitis (literally “an inflammation of the angles of the lip”), it’s also called perleche, derived from the French lecher, “to lick.” The latter moniker aptly describes the tendency of sufferers to compulsively lick the sores to relieve irritation, which actually can make things worse.
Perleche has a number of possible causes, mostly from in or around the mouth (although systemic diseases or medications can cause it on rare occasions). It’s often found among younger people who drool during sleep or older people with deep wrinkles along the sides of the mouth that increase the chances of dryness and cracking. Long-term wind or cold exposure, ill-fitting dentures or a lack of back teeth (which help support facial structure) may also contribute to the condition.
Patients with perleche can also develop yeast infections from a strain called candida albicans. The infection can spread through the whole mouth, significantly increasing the chances of physical discomfort.
Treating perleche often involves topical ointments with inflammation-reducing steroids and zinc oxide, which has antifungal properties, to provide an environmental barrier during the healing process. If a yeast infection occurs, we may treat it with oral or topical antifungal medication like Nystatin for the whole mouth and chlorhexidine rinses, which has antibacterial properties.
It also helps to adopt a few preventive measures that can minimize the occurrence of perleche. If you wear dentures, for example, cleaning them often (including, if necessary, with chlorhexidine) and leaving them out at night reduces bacterial and fungal growth. We can also see if your dentures are fitting properly. Replacing missing teeth provides better facial support and could minimize wrinkling around the mouth. And, of course, keeping up daily brushing and flossing helps ensure a healthy and disease-free mouth.
If you’re experiencing cracked mouth corners, let us know at your next appointment. With our help and of other medical professionals we may be able to give you relief from this irritating condition.
If you would like more information on gaining relief from angular cheilitis, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor article “Cracked Corners of the Mouth.”
A few days before the Oscars, Vanity Fair magazine asked Academy Awards host Neil Patrick Harris to name his most treasured possession. Was it his Tony award statuette for best leading actor in a musical? His star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame? The stethoscope he wore while playing teenaged doctor Doogie Howser on TV? No, as it turns out, the 41-year-old actor’s most treasured possession is… his wisdom teeth. Yes, you read that correctly. “Oddly, I still have my four wisdom teeth,” Harris said. “I refuse to let them go or I’ll lose my wise parts.”
How odd is it for a 41-year-old to have wisdom teeth? Actually, not that odd at all. While it is true that wisdom teeth are often removed, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to this. It all depends on whether they are causing problems now, or are likely to cause problems in the future.
The trouble wisdom teeth cause is related to the fact that they are the last molars to come in, and that molars are large in size. By the time wisdom teeth appear between the ages of 17 and 21, there often is not enough room for them in the jaw. Sometimes it’s because you may have inherited a jaw size that’s too small for your tooth size; and generally speaking, the size of the human jaw has evolved to become smaller over time.
If room is lacking, the adjacent molar (that came in earlier) can interfere with the path of eruption — causing the wisdom tooth to come in at an odd angle. The wisdom tooth can hit up against that other tooth, possibly causing pain or damaging the adjacent tooth. This is known as “impaction.” Sometimes the wisdom tooth breaks only partway through the gum tissue, leaving a space beneath the gum line that’s almost impossible to clean, causing infection. A serious oral infection can jeopardize the survival of teeth, and even spread to other parts of the body.
If a wisdom tooth is impacted, will you know it? Not necessarily. A tooth can be impacted without causing pain. But we can see the position of your wisdom teeth on a dental x-ray and help you make an informed decision as to whether they should stay or go. If removal is the best course of action, rest assured that this procedure is completely routine and that your comfort and safety is our highest priority. If there is no great risk to keeping them, as Neil Patrick Harris has done, we can simply continue to monitor their condition at your regular dental checkups. It will be particularly important to make sure you are reaching those teeth with your brush and floss, and that you keep to your schedule of regular professional cleanings at the dental office. All healthy teeth are indeed worth treasuring.
If you would like more information about wisdom teeth, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Wisdom Teeth” and “Removing Wisdom Teeth.”
Unlike other tooth replacement options, dental implants require a surgical procedure. But don't let your imagination run wild — the procedure is relatively minor and easy for most people to undergo.
Implants are unique among restorations because they replace a tooth's root. A metal titanium post, substituting for the root, must be surgically placed into the jawbone. While the procedure itself is simple and no more involved than a tooth extraction, it does require careful attention to detail before, during and afterward.
Our first step is to examine the target site with x-rays (often CT scanning) to pinpoint the best location for placement. This is critical because where we place the implant will have a huge bearing on how attractive and natural the implant finally appears. From this evaluation we frequently create a surgical guide.
Surgery begins with a local anesthesia to completely numb the site. You will feel no pain during the procedure and only minimal discomfort for a few days afterward. We then make small incisions in the gums to access the bone and create a small channel or hole.
Using the surgical guide, we then initiate a drilling sequence that gradually increases the size of the channel until it's the size and shape of the implant post. One thing we must do at this point is take our time: we use gentle pressure and water-cooling to avoid overheating and damaging the bone.
Once we're finished with drilling we remove the implant from its sterile packaging and imbed it directly into the prepared channel. It's then a matter of verifying the location with x-rays and then closing the gum tissue with self-absorbing sutures if necessary.
Most patients only need mild pain medication like aspirin or ibuprofen to manage discomfort afterwards. You won't even notice it in a week or less. After several weeks in which the bone grows and adheres to the implant (a process called osseointegration), you'll be ready for the final step, attaching the life-like porcelain crown to the implant.
Although the process can take several weeks to months, your discomfort should be minimal at any stage. In the end, your patience will be rewarded with a new, more attractive smile.
If you would like more information on the process of obtaining dental implants, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Dental Implant Surgery.”
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