Many people associate the feeling of a numb mouth with a visit to the dentist. However, numbness of the mouth and tongue can point to several conditions including a calcium deficiency and burning mouth syndrome.
This article outlines the potential causes of a numb mouth, along with their associated symptoms and treatments. It also provides information about when to see a doctor.
Most people consider numbness to be an absence of feeling or sensation. However, when describing numbness, people may also use terms such as tingling or pins and needles.
Below are some potential causes of numbness in the mouth.
The vitamins B12 and B9 help maintain a healthy nervous system. Because of this, people who are deficient in either of these vitamins may experience neurological symptoms, such as pins and needles or numbness.
These symptoms may occur in different parts of the body, including the mouth.
Other possible symptoms of a vitamin B12 or B9 deficiency include:
To treat a vitamin B12 or B9 deficiency, a doctor may prescribe the necessary vitamin in the form of pills or injections.
Hypocalcemia can occur as a result of the following:
- low vitamin D levels
- thyroid problems
- certain congenital irregularities
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
In oral allergy syndrome, consuming certain raw foods triggers a localized allergic reaction affecting the mouth or throat. This is because the proteins within these foods are similar to the proteins of certain pollens that the person is allergic to.
Some possible symptoms of oral allergy syndrome include:
- numbness or irritation of the mouth
- hives on the mouth
- scratchy throat pain
The best way to manage oral allergy syndrome is to cook the raw foods that trigger the allergic reaction. Cooking the food destroys the allergens.
If it is not practical or desirable to cook a particular food, a person should avoid eating it altogether.
Burning mouth syndrome
There are two types of burning mouth syndrome: primary and secondary.
Primary burning mouth syndrome occurs in the absence of an underlying medical condition, while secondary burning mouth syndrome occurs as a result of an underlying medical condition, such as:
- a nutritional deficiency
- an oral infection
- dry mouth
- hormonal changes
- a metabolic disorder
- a food allergy
A person who has burning mouth syndrome may require medications to manage symptoms such as pain and dry mouth.
If a person has secondary burning mouth syndrome, treating the underlying cause should help alleviate the symptoms.
Lingual nerve damage
The lingual nerve provides sensation to the:
- lower gums
- floor of the mouth
- front two-thirds of the tongue
People can sometimes sustain damage to the lingual nerve during a dental procedure. This damage may result in numbness of the mouth.
Most people with lingual nerve damage find that the condition goes away without treatment within around 3 months.
Diabetes is a chronic metabolic condition in which a person must carefully manage their blood glucose (sugar) levels.
People with diabetes can experience a condition called hypoglycemia, in which their blood glucose levels drop too low. This can result in numbness or tingling of the lips or tongue. Other possible symptoms of hypoglycemia include:
Treatment for diabetes depends partly on the type of diabetes a person has.
People with type 2 diabetes may also require insulin or other medications to control their blood glucose levels. However, some may be able to
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a chronic condition that affects the central nervous system. In MS, the myelin sheath that surrounds and protects the nerve cells degrades. This can cause problems with sensation.
A sensation of numbness or pins and needles is a common symptom of MS.
According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, there are currently no available treatments to relieve the numbness or tingling associated with MS. However, they add that these sensations typically come and go, and a doctor may prescribe a brief course of corticosteroids to speed up recovery.
Some other possible symptoms of oral cancer 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 for oral cancer depends on the type of cancer a person has, as well as its stage.
Medication side effects
Certain medications and medical procedures can also cause numbness of the mouth or jaw. Examples include:
- the osteoporosis medication alendronate
- certain chemotherapy drugs
- radiation therapy to the head or neck
- surgical procedures of the mouth, head, or neck
People who experience numbness of the mouth while taking a particular medication should notify their doctor. If possible, the doctor may recommend changing the dosage of the medication or switching to a different medication entirely.
As there are many potential causes of a numb mouth, diagnosing the cause may require time and a number of different approaches.
A doctor will begin by asking about the person’s symptoms and reviewing their medical history. They will then carry out a thorough examination of the mouth.
To assist the diagnosis, the doctor may also order one or more of the following tests:
A person should see a doctor if they experience persistent numbness of the mouth, or if the numbness accompanies other symptoms.
The ACS recommend that people see a doctor or dentist if they experience oral numbness or other oral symptoms for longer than
Sudden onset of numbness in the mouth can sometimes be a symptom of a severe allergic reaction known as anaphylaxis. A person needs emergency medical attention if their numbness comes on suddenly.
If a person has a known allergy and a prescription epinephrine pen, they should use the device while waiting for the emergency services to arrive.
Numbness in the mouth may describe a complete or partial absence of feeling. Partial numbness may be accompanied by sensations such as tingling or pins and needles.
There are many potential causes of numbness in the mouth. Examples include nutrient deficiencies, allergies, and chronic underlying medical conditions.
A person should see a doctor if they experience persistent numbness of the mouth, or if the numbness is accompanied by other worrying symptoms.