Nearly everyone has experienced the feeling of "pins and needles" in a limb at some point. Perhaps you were kneeling on the floor and your legs fell asleep, or you woke up with a numb hand after spending the night with your arm positioned under your pillow. That tingling feeling is formally known as paresthesia. Paresthesia often occurs in the hands and feet, but it can also occur in other body parts, including in a tingling tongue.
The University of Rochester Medical Center explains that paresthesia is the result of a "traffic jam in your nervous system." Pressure on the nerve creates a blockage, preventing the electric impulses from traveling up and down the nerves. Once the pressure is removed, the impulses can travel freely again. After a delay, the impulses tend to travel more quickly than usual, causing a tingling sensation in the affected area.
The tingling you may one day feel in your tongue is rarely from falling asleep in a strange position, however. Here are a few things that can cause a tingling tongue.
Nerve Damage After Surgery
People sometimes get a tingling feeling in their tongues after oral surgery, such as a wisdom tooth extraction or a root canal procedure. As a case report in the Journal of Dental Anesthesia and Pain Medicine notes, paresthesia often occurs right after surgery, but there are rare cases when a person has delayed-onset tingling.
Two of the nerves that are most likely to contribute to a tingling feeling in the tongue after oral surgery are the lingual nerve and the inferior alveolar nerve (IAN). The Journal of Dental Anesthesia and Pain Medicine notes that IAN paresthesia occurs in anywhere from 0.35 to 8.4 percent of cases.
If you've recently had oral surgery and have noticed that your tongue feels tingly, don't worry. Most cases of paresthesia disappear on their own within a few months. If you are particularly concerned about the sensation or if has lingered for longer than a few months, schedule a visit with your dentist or oral surgeon to see what's going on.
People who have an allergy to birch pollen might also have a condition called oral allergy syndrome. The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology reports that up to three-quarters of adults with a birch pollen allergy also have oral allergy syndrome. One of the symptoms of the syndrome is a tingling and itchy tongue after eating certain raw fruits and vegetables, such as apples, peaches, cherries and carrots. Your best bet if you have oral allergy syndrome is to avoid eating the raw fruits and vegetables that trigger an allergic reaction.
Canker Sore on the Tongue
The American Academy of Oral Medicine describes canker sores as one of the most common oral conditions and notes that they occur in more than half of all people. Canker sores develop on the inside of the mouth on the cheeks, soft palate, lips and tongue.
You might be able to tell that a canker sore is coming on a few days before it appears. The Mayo Clinic notes that a tingling or burning sensation can develop a couple of days before the sore itself is visible.
Canker sores may be painful, but they often don't require treatment and clear up on their own after a couple of weeks. If you notice your canker sores are large or don't clear up after a week or two, schedule an appointment with your dentist. They can evaluate the sore and discuss your treatment options.
"Hypo" Causes of a Tingling Tongue
In some cases, a tingling tongue means that you are missing one of the substances your body needs to thrive. Hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, and hypocalcemia, or low calcium levels, are two conditions that can cause paresthesia in the tongue.
There are a few things worth noting about "hypo" causes of tingling tongues. One is that they are fairly rare. The other is that paresthesia usually doesn't occur until the levels of sugar or calcium in the body are severely low. The American Diabetes Association lists tingling and numbness in the tongue, lips or cheeks as one of the more severe signs of low blood sugar. Merck Manual connects tingling in the tongue with tetany, an involuntary contraction of the muscles that often develops when calcium levels are very low.
If you have diabetes or a condition that causes low calcium levels, working with your doctor to manage the condition can help you avoid a tingling tongue as well as other complications.