By Meghan Holohan
While at a conference in Chicago, Jason McConville was enjoying a slice of deep dish pizza when it happened: the molten cheese burned the roof of his mouth, causing excruciating pain, followed by that all-too-familiar tender, raw sensation for the next few days.
“This has plagued humankind since we discovered fire, it seems. Since the first caveman cooked his turkey over an open fire [humans have burned their mouths],” he says.
We’ve all been there — biting into hot food or chugging a boiling drink then scalding our mouths. But McConville, an associate professor of pharmaceutical sciences at the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, decided to do something about it. He designed a dissolvable mouth strip with the local anesthesia benzocaine, sometimes found in cough drops, and also used by dentists, to provide some pain relief. The strips resemble popular breath freshening strips and can be used to sooth burns for a few hours up to a few days.
“That compound itself is a really, really rapidly acting, stable compound that lasts for a long time on the shelf. It seems very logical [to use this] ingredient as it is readily available,” he says.
Someone suffering from the much-hated scalded mouth can slip a strip into her mouth where it will rest on the roof, cheek, or tongue slowly releasing the pain-reliever. Even though the strip will dissolve slower than its breath-freshening cousin, it won’t impair people’s ability to talk or use their mouths.
“The mouth is a very, very quick part of the body to heal; a couple of days is probably the maximum you would need. In addition to that, we have included a semi-active ingredient that promotes healing,” McConville adds.
While the mango-flavored strips exist as a prototype, McConville hopes to find an industry partner to help manufacture the strips for consumers; he doesn’t anticipate facing many barriers—most of the ingredients are readily available in other over-the-counter medications. In a few months, he plans on starting a small study in human participants to test the efficacy of the strips (but assures us that he won’t force subjects to eat scorching food to induce mouth burns). Within a few years, McConville hopes that the pain-relieving strips will be available over the counter, possibly in more flavors than mango.
“We can change the flavor to suit the mood—the sky’s the limit to the flavoring. We need to do to appeal to a wide range of people and this wide variety of people have all burned their mouths.”