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Mouth Diseases

Loss of taste and burned tongue

11/06/2003

Question:

One week ago my tongue felt like I had burned it, though I hadn`t. That feeling still remains. (It is not painful, just feels like I burned it.) A few days later, my mouth felt like it had a coating inside that does not go away. About the same time, I started loosing my sense of taste. For the last two days, I have started salavating more under my tongue which creates a metalic taste in my mouth. All food and drink tastes flat and unappetizing. I have not been sick at all recently and am taking no medications. I just saw my regular doctor and she had no idea and prescribed Prevacid in case it was an acid problem, though I have not had any stomach problems. Can you help?

Answer:

While a specific diagnosis cannot be made without a thorough examination of the mouth, the symptoms that you are describing sound very much like a condition known as "burning mouth syndrome". We don`t know exactly what causes this condition, but most of the evidence points to a minor disorder of what are known as sensory nerves - the nerves that tell the brain what the mouth is feeling. Pain is one sensation, texture (the "coated" feeling) is another sensation, and taste is the third sensation. For reasons that we can`t explain, the nerves in the mouth are sending back the wrong messages to the brain about how the mouth feels. In all cases, the mouth looks absolutely normal to the doctor who is examining it, which often causes confusion.

I like to explain the situation as being similar to when you lie the wrong way on your arm and it "falls asleep". It feels terrible - like someone is sticking you with hundreds of needles - but if someone walked into the room when your arm was "asleep" and you asked them "What`s wrong with my arm?", they would look at it and say that it seems fine. Of course, in the case of your arm, the nerves recover quickly and normal sensation is restored. For over half of the patients with burning mouth syndrome, the nerves return to normal eventually, although this may take weeks, months, or sometimes even years, and it is impossible to predict how soon this will happen for a particular patient. Unfortunately, there is no medically proven treatment for this annoying condition.

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Response by:

Carl M Allen, DDS, MSD Carl M Allen, DDS, MSD
Professor Emeritus of Oral Pathology
College of Dentistry
The Ohio State University