Numb mouth: Symptoms, treatments, and diagnosis

Many people equate a visit to the dentist with the sensation of a numb mouth. There are also several other potentially numb mouth triggers.

This article outlines the possible causes and the related signs and treatments of a numb mouth. It also includes information about when to see a doctor.

Definition

Mouth numbness may result from nutrient deficiencies, allergies, or chronic underlying medical conditions.
Mouth numbness may result from nutrient deficiencies, allergies, or chronic underlying medical conditions.

Most people believe numbness is an absence of emotion or sensation. However, people can also use words such as tingling, or pins and needles when describing numbness.

Causes

Here are a few possible causes of numbness in the mouth.

Vitamin deficiency

The vitamins B12 and B9 help keep the nervous system healthy. For this reason people who are deficient in any of these vitamins can experience neurological symptoms, such as pins and needles or numbness.

These symptoms can occur at various parts of the body, including the mouth.

Some potential signs of a deficiency of vitamin B12 or B9 include:

  • mouth ulcers
  • a sore, red tongue
  • depression
  • memory problems
  • problems with understanding and judgment
Treatment

To treat a deficiency in vitamin B12 or B9, a doctor can prescribe the vitamin required in the form of pills or injections.

Calcium deficiency

Hypocalcemia is the medical term for the low levels of calcium. Around the mouth this condition can cause numbness. Other signs can include cramps, seizures or muscle spasms.

Hypocalcemia can occur as a consequence of:

  • low vitamin D levels
  • thyroid problems
  • certain congenital irregularities

Treatment

To treat hypocalcemia, a doctor will first need to determine the cause. Then, they may suggest one of the following options:

  • supplementing with calcium
  • supplementing with vitamin D
  • treating underlying thyroid issues

Oral allergy syndrome

Oral allergy syndrome, or pollen-food syndrome, is a condition that affects people with hay fever in the first place.

Eating certain raw foods in oral allergy syndrome causes a localized allergic reaction which affects the mouth or throat. This is because the proteins within these foods are identical to the proteins of certain pollens to which the person is allergic.

Some signs of oral allergy syndrome may include:

  • numbness or irritation of the mouth
  • hives on the mouth
  • scratchy throat pain

Treatment

Cooking the raw foods which cause the allergic reaction is the best way to treat oral allergy syndrome. Cooking the food destroys the allergens.

If cooking a particular food is not feasible or desirable a person should avoid eating it altogether.

Burning mouth syndrome

Burning mouth syndrome is a disorder that induces feelings of numbness, tingling or burning in the mouth. It can also change the sense of taste. The symptoms can occur for months or longer everyday.

Burning mouth syndrome has two types: primary and secondary.

Main burning mouth syndrome occurs in the absence of an underlying medical condition, while secondary burning mouth syndrome occurs as a consequence of an underlying medical condition, such as:

Treatment

A individual suffering from burning mouth syndrome may need medication to treat symptoms such as pain and dry mouth.

If a person has secondary mouth burning syndrome, treatment of the underlying cause may help relieve the symptoms.

Lingual nerve damage

The lingual nerve provides sensation to the:

  • lower gums
  • floor of the mouth
  • front two-thirds of the tongue

Individuals will also suffer lingual nerve damage during a dental operation. The damage can lead to mouth numbness.

Treatment

Most people with lingual nerve damage expect the disorder to go away within around 3 months without medication.

That said, a 2018 case study showed that early treatment with the steroid dexamethasone for lingual nerve damage helped minimize nerve inflammation and helped to repair the lingual nervous system.

Diabetes

Diabetes is a chronic metabolic disorder in which a person needs to control their blood glucose (sugar) levels carefully.

Diabetes patients may suffer a disorder called hypoglycemia in which their blood glucose levels fall too low. This can cause lip or tongue numbness or tingling. Some potential hypoglycemic symptoms would include:

Treatment

Diabetes treatment depends in part on what type of diabetes a person has.

Individuals with type 1 diabetes may need insulin injections to help regulate blood glucose levels.

People with type 2 diabetes will also need to monitor their blood glucose levels with insulin or other drugs. Some can regulate their blood glucose levels through diet and exercise though.

Multiple sclerosis

A chronic disease affecting the central nervous system is multiple sclerosis (MS). In MS, the myelin sheath covering the nerve cells and protecting them degrades. This can be causing sensation issues.

One common symptom of MS is a sense of numbness or pins and needles.

Treatment

There are currently no treatments available to relieve the numbness or tingling associated with MS, according to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. However, they add that these sensations typically come and go, and a doctor may prescribe a brief course of corticosteroids to accelerate recovery.

Oral cancer

The American Cancer Society ( ACS) reports that mouth or tongue numbness can often be a sign of oral cancer.

Any other potential oral cancer signs may include:

  • a mouth sore that does not heal
  • a white or red patch in the mouth or on the gums, tongue, or tonsils
  • a lump or mass in the neck or cheek
  • difficulty chewing or swallowing
  • weight loss

Treatment

Treatment for oral cancer depends on the form and stage of the cancer a person has.

In general, surgery to remove the tumor will be the first treatment for oral cancer. This will normally be accompanied by a combination of chemotherapy and radiation therapy to help kill any cancer cells left over.

Medication side effects

Also, some medications and medical procedures may cause mouth or jaw numbness. Examples may include:

  • the osteoporosis medication alendronate
  • certain chemotherapy drugs
  • radiation therapy to the head or neck
  • surgical procedures of the mouth, head, or neck

Treatment

People who experience mouth numbness when taking a given medication should contact their doctor. The doctor may suggest changing the dosage of the medication or moving entirely to another medication if necessary.

Diagnosis

Given that a numb mouth has several possible causes, diagnosing the cause can take time and a variety of different approaches.

A doctor will start by talking about the symptoms of the person and examining his or her medical history. They’ll then do a comprehensive mouth test.

A doctor can also prescribe one or more of the following tests to aid in the diagnosis:

  • blood tests
  • allergy tests
  • tissue biopsy
  • neurological examination
  • medical imaging tests

When to see a doctor

An individual should see a doctor if they experience persistent mouth numbness, or if other symptoms are followed by the numbness.

The ACS suggests that people see a doctor or dentist for more than 2 weeks if they experience oral numbness or other oral symptoms.

Sudden onset of numbness in the mouth can be a sign of a serious allergic reaction known as anaphylaxis on occasion. A individual needs emergency medical attention when their numbness unexpectedly comes on.

If a person has a suspected allergy and an epinephrine pen on prescription, they can use the drug while waiting for the emergency services to come.

Summary

Numbness in the mouth may describe a total or partial loss of feeling. Sensations such as tingling, or pins and needles can accompany partial numbness.

The mouth includes several possible causes of numbness. Examples include defects in the nutrient, allergies and underlying chronic medical conditions.

An individual should see a doctor if they are having persistent mouth numbness, or if other troubling symptoms follow the numbness.

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