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Is burning mouth syndrome a neuropathic pain condition?

Jääskeläinen, Satu K.

doi: 10.1097/j.pain.0000000000001090
NeuPSIG Reviews
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Primary burning mouth syndrome (BMS) is defined as an “intraoral burning or dysaesthetic sensation, recurring daily… more than 3 months, without clinically evident causative lesions” (IHS 2013). In addition to pain, taste alterations are frequent (dysgeusia, xerostomia). Although lacking clinical signs of neuropathy, more accurate diagnostic methods have shown neuropathic involvement at various levels of the neuraxis in BMS: peripheral small fiber damage (thermal quantitative sensory testing, electrogustatometry, epithelial nerve fiber density), trigeminal system lesions in the periphery or the brainstem (brainstem reflex recordings, trigeminal neurography, evoked potentials), or signs of decreased inhibition within the central nervous system (deficient brainstem reflex habituation, positive signs in quantitative sensory testing, neurotransmitter–positron emission tomography findings indicative of deficient striatal dopamine function). Abnormalities in electrogustatometry indicate the involvement of the small Aδ taste afferents, in addition to somatosensory small fibers. According to these findings, the clinical entity of BMS can be divided into 2 main subtypes compatible with either peripheral or central neuropathic pain, which may overlap in individual patients. The central type does not respond to local treatments and associates often with psychiatric comorbidity (depression or anxiety), whereas the peripheral type responds to peripheral lidocaine blocks and topical clonazepam. Burning mouth syndrome is most prevalent in postmenopausal women, having led to a hypothesis that BMS is triggered as a consequence of nervous system damage caused by neurotoxic factors affecting especially vulnerable small fibers and basal ganglia in a setting of decrease in neuroprotective gonadal hormones and increase in stress hormone levels, typical for menopause.

Burning mouth syndrome is a chronic neuropathic intraoral pain condition with a population prevalence of around 1% to 3% and in postmenopausal women up to 18%.

Department of Clinical Neurophysiology, Turku University Hospital, University of Turku, Turku, Finland

Address: Department of Clinical Neurophysiology, Turku University Hospital, PO Box 52, 20521 Turku, Finland. Tel.: +358 2 3131939; fax: +358 2 3133922. E-mail address: satu.jaaskelainen@tyks.fi (S. K. Jääskeläinen).

Sponsorships or competing interests that may be relevant to content are disclosed at the end of this article.

© 2017 International Association for the Study of Pain
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