Tingling or numbness in the tongue can be caused by a number of different conditions.
A tingling, numb, or pins and needles feeling is usually due to a loss of sensation from pressure or damage to the nerves.
A person may experience this sensation after sitting in an uncomfortable position for a long time, or if they fall asleep resting on an arm. Less common is a tingling feeling in the tongue, which usually results from a specific procedure or experience, such as an allergic reaction.
There are some medical conditions associated with a loss of sensation in the tongue, so it is important to be aware of the warning signs for serious medical conditions, such as a stroke.
Causes of a tingling tongue
There are a range of things that can cause a tingling tongue, including:
Damage to a nerve during a dental procedure
The lingual nerve is responsible for the feeling in the front of the tongue. It is possible to injure this nerve during dental procedures or surgery.
Damage to the lingual nerve occurs most commonly when removing a wisdom tooth, also known as the third molar, in the lower jaw.
This can lead to a feeling of numbness, a prickling sensation, and sometimes a change in how food or drink tastes. It may only affect one side of the tongue, or extend to the lips and chin.
About 90 percent of these nerve injuries are temporary, so a person should get back to normal within 8 weeks.
If symptoms last longer than 6 months, the nerve injury is considered permanent and will need to be treated by a medical professional.
Tongue tingling is a potential symptom of oral allergy syndrome, which can be caused by certain fruits.
Some people may have an allergic reaction to certain foods or drinks, particularly if they also have hay fever. This can cause an itching or tingling sensation on the tongue, mouth, or throat.
Oral allergy syndrome can occur after eating raw fruits or vegetables because the proteins in them are similar to those found in pollen.
The allergic reaction should go away on its own but taking an over-the-counter antihistamine and rinsing the mouth with water can speed up healing. Avoiding the trigger food can prevent it happening again.
A person should consult a doctor if symptoms cause a lot of discomfort, get worse, or hives appear.
People should also be aware of the signs of anaphylaxis, a life-threatening allergic reaction that needs urgent medical attention. Signs of anaphylaxis can include a red rash, swollen throat, trouble breathing, stomach cramps, and difficulty swallowing.
A canker sore is a small mouth ulcer than can appear on the lips, inside of the mouth, or the tongue. It can cause pain or numbness, and sometimes a tingling sensation around the immediate area.
Canker sores should get better within a week but using over-the-counter medication or a mouth rinse can relieve discomfort and speed up healing.
Certain medications may cause tingling tongue as a side effect, particularly if the medication is taken by mouth.
When people are prescribed medication, they should always review the expected side effects by carefully reading packaging, or asking a doctor or pharmacist.
If a tingling tongue is a known side effect, it should go away once the person stops taking the medication. If the side effect does not go away, or the reaction is particularly severe, a person should consult a doctor or pharmacist.
Burning the tongue on hot food or drink can be painful and uncomfortable, and may result in a tingling sensation as the burn heals.
A person can lesson the discomfort by rinsing their mouth with cool water immediately after burning the tongue. Taking anti-inflammatory medications, such as ibuprofen, can also help if the tongue is very painful or swollen.
Stroke or TIA
A stroke may cause numbness or tingling on one side of the face, including the tongue.
Stroke happens when blood flow to the brain is cut off, resulting in damage to cells that can affect muscle function and memory.
A transient ischemic attack (TIA) happens when blood flow to the brain stops briefly. It can be a warning sign that a stroke could happen in future.
Sudden numbness or weakness in the face or body is a symptom of stroke, particularly if it affects only one side of the body. If the tongue tingles or feels numb and there are other signs of stroke present, it could be a serious warning.
Being aware of the symptoms of stroke and getting emergency medical treatment quickly is crucial. The easy way to remember the signs of stroke is with FAST:
- Face — one side of the face droops
- Arms — weakness in one arm
- Speech — which may be slurred
- Time is critical — call 911 if someone has these symptoms
Nerves that are inflamed or stop working properly is a common symptom of multiple sclerosis (MS). This can result in irritation, pain, or a burning, tingling sensation known as neurogenic pain.
Anemia is a condition affecting red blood cells in the body, causing extreme tiredness and low energy levels.
It should be diagnosed and treated as quickly as possible to prevent long-term problems.
Some people who suffer from migraines may experience visual or sensory symptoms, such as seeing flashes of light before or during a migraine. This is called a migraine with aura.
These types of migraines can also cause a numb or tingling feeling in the tongue, face, or body.
One symptom of low blood sugar or hypoglycemia is a sudden numb or tingling feeling in the tongue or lips.
People with diabetes are particularly at risk, so should check their blood glucose levels and seek immediate treatment if they experience this sudden tingling.
When to see a doctor
Tingling in the tongue usually goes away within days or weeks, particularly if it has been caused by an injury, such as a burn.
A person should seek medical advice if the feeling lasts for a long time, extends to the lips and jaw, or if there is no clear reason for a loss of sensation.
If someone has a tingling tongue and other signs of the conditions listed above, a persistent allergic reaction, or symptoms related to a dental procedure that last longer than 6 months, they should seek advice from their doctor or get urgent medical attention if needed.
The most common causes of a tingling tongue can usually be pinpointed to a specific experience, such as a dental procedure, allergic reaction, or burn.
If none of these apply, a person should consider other symptoms that could indicate an underlying condition.
People should know the warning signs for a stroke, particularly if they or their loved ones have an increased stroke risk.