Study to Uncover What Causes Burning Mouth Syndrome

Dentistry Today


Dr. Sumeia Werfalli, who is studying for her PhD in oral biology at the University of Washington School of Dentistry, has received a Scan|Design Foundation Innovative Pain Research Grant from the University of Washington Department of Anesthesiology & Pain Medicine. 

Werfalli, who already holds a dental degree from Libya’s Benghazi University and a master’s degree in dentistry from the University of Washington, will use the $41,290 grant to support her studies of salivary mucins in patients with burning mouth syndrome.

Mucins are proteins that make up the primary components of mucus. They help lubricate and protect the oral cavity. Burning mouth syndrome occurs on the tip of the tongue or the roof of the mouth, but it can also appear elsewhere in the mouth. It primarily affects postmenopausal women and is commonly associated with dry mouth.

 “The impact of this condition on the quality of life of these sufferers is substantial,” said Werfalli.

Burning mouth syndrome has no well identified cause, and it can last for years. Treatment options are scarce. Werfalli will explore the hypothesis that it is caused by a mucin-related malfunction of the oral epithelial barrier, the layer of tissue that provides the mouth’s first line of defense against bacteria and other threats. She believes her findings also may shed light on other painful conditions like irritable bowel syndrome.

“I am very honored and grateful for receiving this significant award, which motivates me to complete my research project as well as additional assays in support of my dissertation work,” said Werfalli.

The nonprofit Scan|Design Foundation, established in Denmark and Seattle in 2002, supports pain research. It is funded by Scan|Design Furniture, which opened in Bellevue in 1964 and now has stores in Washington and Oregon.

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