Burning Mouth Syndrome (BMS) is a chronic pain condition characterized by persistent burning in the mouth. It affects mostly females, especially postmenopausal women, and conventional approaches are often not very successful. You’ll often see articles and papers with the terms ‘refractory’ and ‘unknown etiology’/unknown causes.
Medications like SRNIs and benzodiazepines
Some studies report limited success with medications like venlafaxine/Effexor, an SRNI and topical and oral use of benzodiazepines such as clonazepam/Klonopin. In this paper, Refractory burning mouth syndrome: clinical and paraclinical evaluation, comorbidities, treatment and outcome, 8 participants saw their pain diminish by half within 3 months.
Another paper, The Effect of Clonazepam Mouthwash on the Symptomatology of Burning Mouth Syndrome: An Open Pilot Study, reports success with a benzodiazepine mouthwash in half the participants.
Other than the poor quality of life and having to continue to live with pain, the bigger concern is the side-effects of medications like these, plus concerns with tolerance and then issues with withdrawal.
New oral GABA research for burning mouth
It’s for this reason that I’m excited about the recent research, γ-Aminobutyric acid (GABA) oral rinse reduces capsaicin-induced burning mouth pain sensation: An experimental quantitative sensory testing study in healthy subjects, that finds that both and men and women experienced immediate benefits when using GABA for burning mouth pain.
The burning mouth pain was caused by the application of capsaicin to the tongues of thirty healthy males and females. Capsaicin is the compound that makes chili peppers hot. (I find it interesting that capsaicin was the compound used to cause the burning mouth sensation because this same compound is used in topical creams and patches to ease pain.)
The study concludes as follows:
Capsaicin-induced burning tongue pain and decreases in WDT (warm detection) and HPT (heat pain) can be ameliorated by rinsing the mouth with lidocaine and GABA solutions.
Rinsing the mouth with an oral GABA containing solution ameliorated burning pain and increased heat sensitivity produced by application of capsaicin to the tongue. This finding suggests that GABA can act as a local analgesic agent in the oral cavity.
Lidocaine, a numbing medication, was part of the GABA solution in this study, but because it has side-effects that may include anxiety, I recommend a trial of a GABA-only solution to ease the burning mouth pain.
Using a GABA-only oral solution
Using a GABA-only oral solution makes sense given that the likely mechanism of action of topical benzodiazepines in burning mouth pain is via local action on peripheral GABAA receptors found in the nerve fibers of the tongue.
This is also very feasible based on how effective GABA is for other pain such as proctalgia fugax/rectal spasms, and the visceral pain and muscle tension in your gut caused by the bloating symptoms of SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth) and muscular back pain after a fall.
How much GABA will help?
As with any use of GABA and the other amino acids, how much will help depends on each person’s unique biochemistry and needs at the time. In the same way I do a trial of GABA with my anxiety clients to determine how much would help, I do the same with burning mouth pain (and other pain situations).
I recommend a trial of a GABA-only product and starting low with 100 to 200mg of GABA swished held in the mouth with some water for a few minutes. This can be used three or four times a day in between meals and with the mg increased slowly based on results. You can find the GABA supplements I recommend here.
GABA is an amino acid that is recognized for calming physical anxiety and tension and since anxiety (and depression) is very common in those with burning mouth pain, the GABA is going to provide calming benefits too.
As with any health condition, finding the underlying root causes using a comprehensive functional medicine approach is key. One such root cause may be low GABA and using oral GABA is going to address this one and provide some relief while other root causes are identified and addressed.
These other root causes can be very varied as explained in the paper Burning Mouth Syndrome. They can include: age-related reduction in estrogen and progesterone levels, lower cortisol, diabetes mellitus and hypothyroidism, allergic reactions to foods, additives and even metals in the mouth, autoimmune connective tissue disorders, nutritional deficiencies (B1, B2, B6, B12. folate, and/or zinc), smoking and candida, and medication side-effects as mentioned above.
Have you experienced burning mouth pain and seen relief with GABA or other nutritional approaches?
If you’re a practitioner, is burning mouth pain common in your postmenopausal clients or patients and what approaches have you found most successful? Have you found GABA to be helpful?
If you are still suffering with burning mouth please share the following when you comment:
- Your age (it seems to be more prevalent in women 59 and older)
- If you have anxiety and/or depression now and have been prone to either in the past
- How you score on the low GABA questionnaire and which symptoms you relate to? This will provide a clue that low GABA may be an issue and the oral GABA rinse is more likely to help
- How you score on the low serotonin questionnaire (same link as GABA questionnaire above) and which symptoms you relate to? SSRIs have been shown to help in some cases and we know tryptophan/5-HTP help with pain so serotonin support may help too. Perhaps a tryptophan or 5-HTP rinse is worth a trial too?
- How long it’s been an issue, what approaches you’ve tried and which approaches have helped (even if they only helped a short while or helped the pain a little)
- Current and past medications (burning mouth is caused by certain medications)
I’d love to gather a list of all this so we can help you and more women who suffer with these awful symptoms.
Additional Anxiety Resources