Feel like someone’s shoved a ghost chilli into your chops while you weren’t looking? Or like you drank your tea too soon, only you’re not actually drinking tea?
And, hold on, why all of a sudden does it taste like you licked a rusty iron fence?
What you’re probably experiencing is Burning Mouth Syndrome. Yes, it’s a real thing and yes, it’s a common side-effect of the menopause. In fact, as many as 40% of women will experience it.
Oestrogen is in your saliva and affects the bitter taste buds at the back of your tongue (she gets everywhere, doesn’t she?) which are not-so-handily surrounded by a crowd of pain receptors.
Researchers believe falling levels of oestrogen in the perimenopause can damage those taste buds, which in turn leads to unpleasant sensations ranging from dryness to metallic tastes to fiery pain in your mouth.
You may notice it every day or it could come and go as your hormones fluctuate, but it’s likely this symptom is here to stay for months or even years so it’s really important you take steps to help manage it.
TOP TIPS FOR YOU
If you think you’ve got this symptom, the first and most important thing to do is speak to your doctor, who will take some swabs to rule out any underlying conditions.
You can also try out these Burning Mouth Syndrome treatments and tricks to help you deal with it in your day-to-day life.
LIVE LIFE ON THE MILD SIDE
Bad news if you’re a spice lover, but you might have to hold the jalapeños while this symptom passes.
Swap spicy curries for creamy ones like korma, and switch out chilli powder for milder but flavoursome paprika. If you are eating something spicy, make sure you have plenty of natural yoghurt with it to help you keep your cool.
Take comfort – we know you’re still hot stuff.
STAY AWAY FROM ACIDIC DRINKS TOO
As well as spice, acid can lead to an attack of burning mouth in menopause. Swap acidic pure fruit juices for diluted squash and avoid carbonated and alcoholic drinks where possible. There are loads of great booze-free alternatives now, as going sober has become more trendy.
Coffee is another acidic drink, so if you can, steer
clear. Caffeine is also thought to encourage a host of other menopausal symptoms too, including anxiety, irritability and insomnia, so you may find excluding it from your day helps in more ways than expected.
KICK THE NICOTINE
Smoking is another burning issue we need to talk about. Apart from being generally bad for your overall health, cancer-causing and really expensive, smoking reduces blood flow to your gums.
If your gums get infected and you’re struggling with Burning Mouth Syndrome, that’s really only going to add fuel to the fire (no pun intended).
We know stopping smoking is easier said than done, but according to the NHS, you’re four times more likely to kick the habit with their help. If you live in the UK, your local GP surgery can put you in touch with your nearest Stop Smoking clinic.
DRINK LOTS OF WATER
Mouth as dry as Gandhi's flip-flops? It’s time to invest in a water bottle you can carry with you to help you keep hydrated.
Rather than downing water at infrequent intervals, try to take regular sips, making sure you hit that magic two-litre mark across the entirety of the day.
Keep a packet of sugar-free gum or a dry mouth spray in your pocket for emergencies. Sprays are sold at most pharmacies but can also be obtained on prescription.
PRACTICE RELAXATION TECHNIQUES
Weird advice for a burning mouth, right? But being in frequent, long-lasting pain of any kind can really wear you out mentally, as well as physically.
When you’re feeling stressed out with it, try taking a deep breath in through your nose while counting slowly to five, then release it through your mouth, counting back down to one. Repeat this three or four times.
TRY A MINT-FREE, SENSITIVE TOOTHPASTE
While most of us love feeling that cool burst of freshness after brushing our teeth, it may be worth trying out a mild or mint-free toothpaste if you’re struggling with burning sensations.
Consult your dentist to see which product they recommend for your personal dental needs.
TOP TIPS FOR OTHERS
OK, so you’ve had hot curries in your time... but do you know what it’s like to have Burning Mouth Syndrome?
Here are some ways you can help and understand her as she copes with this lesser-known symptom of the menopause.
OUR ADVICE TO HER
We’ve suggested that she avoids spicy foods and acidic drinks, and switches to a mint-free sensitive toothpaste.
If she also quits smoking, stays hydrated and practices relaxation techniques she’s doing all the right things to calm her mouth down.
More info on all of these top tips is on the ‘For her’ section of this page. Take a look.
ASK HER TO EXPLAIN
Don’t assume you know what her symptom feels like. Gently ask her to explain the effect it is having on her physically and emotionally.
You may not be able to do anything to make her feel better. But she may not want answers, she may just need to talk – and be properly heard. Switch your listening ears on and give her your full attention.
ENCOURAGE HER TO SPEAK TO A DOCTOR
If her symptoms have been going on a while or seem to be getting worse, gently encourage her to speak to a GP.
You could even offer to go to the appointment with her to show your support.
CREATE A WEEKLY MEAL PLAN
Planning meals ahead is a good way to get an overview of what she’s eating and it will help her steer clear of triggers too.
Shop for the ingredients together and share the cooking where you can. You could even sign up for a cookery class to learn some new culinary skills.
STUB OUT SMOKING
Did you know that if you decide to quit together you are almost six times more likely* to kick nicotine than going it alone?
Help her say goodbye to cigarettes forever by ditching the smokes too. You can then keep each other going, avoid temptation and bash those cravings on the nose.
*Research by the Imperial College London
CREATE BREATHING SPACE
No, we’re not saying leave her alone. We mean actually breathe together.
Slow, deep breaths initiate the parasympathetic nervous system, which has a calming effect and can improve the symptom. Taking time together to practice and improve your breathing means you’re more likely to keep up with it.
Yoga and meditation are both great, and there are loads of ‘how to’ videos and mindfulness apps like Calm which mean you can practice from the comfort of your living room.