Curing “Ouch Mouth”

Longhorn Researchers Develop Strip for Tongue Burns

It happens all the time: Dinnertime rolls around, and a slice of pepperoni pizza, fresh from the oven, beckons. You’re ready to gorge, and you take that first bite, expecting nothing but blissful satisfaction.

But suddenly a sharp burn makes your eyes water. Your tongue feels like a wildfire is racing to the back of your throat. Your stomach had proven too excited to let the pizza cool, and the rest of your meal will now be consumed while a throbbing burn crisscrosses your tongue. The pizza sits there, taunting you, as you scramble for ice.

“I wouldn’t advise anybody to drink hot coffee so they can just put a strip on. This is purely for accidental burns.”

Due to the work of a handful of University of Texas researchers, such singe-and-cringe situations may soon be a thing of the past.

The team at UT has recently developed a Band-Aid-like strip that can be placed on top of a burned tongue. It would melt away, much like a breath strip, releasing the anesthetic benzocaine, often used in throat lozenges.

The idea for the strip, which was presented at American Association of Pharmaceutical of Scientists’s meeting two weeks ago, was originally concocted by a group of UT biomedical engineering students as part of a final project.

Jason McConville, a former UT pharmacy professor who aided in developing the strip, says the strip was selected as one of a few out of thousands of abstracts that gained any notable traction at the meeting. And he adds that it may have more serious uses.

“The mouth burn is the quite obvious implication for this strip, because everyone’s got a mouth,” says McConville, now at the University of New Mexico. “But on a serious note, there are some wider health issues associated with injury to the mouth, either by burn or physical means, as well as dental conditions that warrant use.”

McConville, who has previously worked on drug delivery research, notes that the uses for this strip may not stop solely with charred pizza or sizzling fries. Because the strip can be placed anywhere in the mouth, McConville says it may one day be used to help treat an assortment of oral lesions, especially in immunocompromised patients. Furthermore, the strip may be a way to transmit local anesthetic to the rest of the body, with blood vessels in the cheeks acting as conduits for the benzocaine.

The strip, of course, will have to go through a regulatory process, but McConville hopes to see it available to consumers within the next few years.

For now, though,the research team—and the writers at Saturday Night Live, who spoofed the “ouch mouth” strip in a comedy sketch—is focused on using the strip solely for moments of seared taste buds.

“I’m flattered [by SNL’s coverage],” McConnville says. “This was a team effort. But just to be sure: I wouldn’t advise anybody to drink hot coffee so they can just put a strip on. This is purely for accidental burns.”


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