This study aimed to determine perceptual response differences and characterize desensitization to capsaicin over time across several oral cavity mucosae– the tongue, cheek, hard palate, and lip. For each region, subjects rated the intensity of capsaicin and a vehicle control over a 10-min period. Following a rest period, capsaicin was reapplied on each pretreated area and subjects indicated which side felt more irritated, then rated each side every 30 s over 3.5 min. Results from the initial task indicated significantly greater irritation on the tongue than hard palate, hard palate than cheek and lip, but no significant differences between the cheek and lip. Time to maximum intensity was delayed on the hard palate compared to the tongue, cheek, and lip. Desensitization, as indicated by a significant proportion of subjects choosing the vehicle-pretreated side over capsaicin-pretreated side as having stronger irritation, was exhibited on the tongue and hard palate but not the cheek and lip. Given these data, a secondary experiment that utilized a higher capsaicin concentration was conducted on the cheek and lip only. Results showed significantly higher overall irritation on the lip than the cheek. Desensitization was exhibited on both areas, although the extent was greater on the lip. Based on differences in sensitivity and the extent of desensitization among these areas, these results indicate that oral cavity mucosae respond to, but are impacted differently by, capsaicin exposure.

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