I came across the name of this disorder by doing a Web search for various symptoms I experience. These include a burning sensation on or in my tongue; sharp sensations across the roof my mouth that feel a bit like small cuts that don't exist; bizarre sensations that come and go, somewhat reminiscent of culinary bungee jumping by biting into Habaneros - but without the endorphin rush. When I've tried to describe these sensations to doctors, they've usually looked at me as though I were stark raving mad. That doesn't surprise me, but I think that if I can find a disorder that affects 2.5 million people, they should be able to do likewise.

From what I have read on the subject, there can be a number of causes for it. They range from physical damage to the nerves of the mouth to phantom sensations generated by hormonal shifts. The "phantom" theory came about when a doctor painted the tongue of one of his patients with an anesthetic as an experiment. That should have numbed the tongue, but instead produced a burning sensation the patient likened to having eaten habanero chilies. Further testing has indicated that many who describe these symptoms have lost much of their ability to taste bitterness, and that the brain may be sending false signals of pain to the mouth as a warning of sorts. When young, our taste buds register bitterness when poisonous substances are introduced to the tongue. As we age (and particularly true for women entering into menopause), the hormonal shifts can reduce the ability to detect a bitter flavour so the brain sends a pain signal instead.

I decided to write about this because it took me four years to find out what it was called. That was in part because I simply couldn't figure out how to describe the bizarre sensations I experienced, but also due to being discounted in doctor's offices. It's bad enough feeling as though your mouth is perpetually on fire without also wondering if maybe the guy is right and you're a little nuts.

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