Update on burning mouth syndrome: overview and patient management

Crit Rev Oral Biol Med. 2003;14(4):275-91. doi: 10.1177/154411130301400405.


Burning Mouth Syndrome (BMS) is a chronic pain syndrome that mainly affects middle-aged/old women with hormonal changes or psychological disorders. This condition is probably of multifactorial origin, often idiopathic, and its etiopathogenesis remains largely enigmatic. The present paper discusses several aspects of BMS, updates current knowledge, and provides guidelines for patient management. There is no consensus on the diagnosis and classification of BMS. The etiopathogenesis seems to be complex and in a large number of patients probably involves interactions among local, systemic, and/or psychogenic factors. In the remaining cases, new interesting associations have recently emerged between BMS and either peripheral nerve damage or dopaminergic system disorders, emphasizing the neuropathic background in BMS. Based on these recent data, we have introduced the concepts of "primary" (idiopathic) and "secondary" (resulting from identified precipitating factors) BMS, since this allows for a more systematic approach to patient management. The latter starts with a differential diagnosis based on the exclusion of both other orofacial chronic pain conditions and painful oral diseases exhibiting muco-sal lesions. However, the occurrence of overlapping/overwhelming oral mucosal pathologies, such as infections, may cause difficulties in the diagnosis ("complicated BMS"). BMS treatment is still unsatisfactory, and there is no definitive cure. As a result, a multidisciplinary approach is required to bring the condition under better control. Importantly, BMS patients should be offered regular follow-up during the symptomatic periods and psychological support for alleviating the psychogenic component of the pain. More research is necessary to confirm the association between BMS and systemic disorders, as well as to investigate possible pathogenic mechanisms involving potential nerve damage. If this goal is to be achieved, a uniform definition of BMS and strict criteria for its classification are mandatory.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Algorithms
  • Burning Mouth Syndrome* / classification
  • Burning Mouth Syndrome* / etiology
  • Burning Mouth Syndrome* / pathology
  • Burning Mouth Syndrome* / psychology
  • Burning Mouth Syndrome* / therapy
  • Central Nervous System Diseases / complications
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Life Change Events
  • Middle Aged
  • Psychophysiologic Disorders
  • Psychotropic Drugs / therapeutic use
  • Sex Factors


  • Psychotropic Drugs