You might be familiar with the oral numbness that occurs due to local anesthesia during dental procedures. A spontaneously numb mouth — without anesthesia — is a less common occurrence. If your mouth has become numb for no apparent reason, you may be concerned. Here are some potential causes and how you can seek treatment.
Abnormal Sensation vs. Lost Sensation
Oral paresthesia refers to an abnormal sensation in the mouth. These sensations may include tingling, prickling or feeling like your mouth is swollen or burning, reports an article published in Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research.
Alternately, oral hypoesthesia refers to a loss of sensation in the mouth, explains the textbook Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery. People with this type of numbness may notice that they're less able to sense various stimuli inside their mouths. For example, you may be less able to perceive temperature, touch or pressure in the affected areas.
Possible Causes of Numbness in the Mouth
Whether you feel strange sensations in your mouth or you've lost the ability to feel inside your mouth at all, there are many possible causes, including oral conditions and conditions that affect the whole body.
HypocalcemiaHypocalcemia, a low level of calcium in the blood, can cause numbness around the mouth or in other parts of the body, reports the Cleveland Clinic. This condition most commonly occurs with individuals who don't have parathyroid glands or who have a severe vitamin D deficiency.
Vitamin DeficiencyDeficiencies in vitamin B12 or folate may also be responsible for a numb mouth. As the U.K.'s National Health Service explains, these vitamins help keep your nerves healthy, so without a sufficient amount of them, you can experience a pins-and-needles sensation.
HypoglycemiaA numb tongue or mouth is one of the possible symptoms of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), explains the Cleveland Clinic. It may affect people who use insulin or other medications to manage their diabetes. Factors such as skipping meals, taking too much medication or not eating enough carbohydrates can lead to low blood sugar.
Multiple SclerosisMultiple sclerosis, a central nervous system disease, may cause numbness in the face or other areas. The National Multiple Sclerosis Society explains that this numbness can range from mild to severe. In cases that affect the mouth, people may accidentally bite their tongues or the insides of their cheeks while eating.
Psychological ConditionsNumbness in the mouth can be caused by psychological conditions, as reported by the Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research article. This phenomenon, known as psychogenic oral paresthesia, can affect people with anxiety disorders or depression and often affects the tongue.
Nerve-Related ParesthesiaAccording to a report in the Journal of Dental Anesthesia and Pain Medicine, the inferior alveolar nerve — one of the nerves often involved in dental treatment and surgery — can be a source of oral paresthesia. After dental work, a patient may experience altered sensation or numbness in the lips, cheek, tongue and inside of the mouth.
Allergic ReactionSome people experience allergic reactions in their mouths after eating certain fruits or vegetables. These reactions, known as oral allergy syndrome, can lead to a tingling sensation inside the mouth, explains Oxford University Hospitals.
SeizuresPartial seizures, which affect a limited area of the brain, can cause various symptoms throughout the body, depending on the part of the brain that's affected. The National Institutes of Health reports that abnormal sensations, such as tingling or numbness, may be associated with seizures.
Burning Mouth SyndromeTingling in the mouth can also be related to a complex condition called burning mouth syndrome. According to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR), this condition describes a burning, tingling or numb sensation in the mouth, and it can be caused by nerve damage or an underlying health condition, such as an oral infection, diabetes or acid reflux.
Oral CancerIn rare cases, mouth numbness may be a sign of oral cancer, notes the NIDCR. Oral cancer can form on the tongue, gums and other areas inside the mouth. This type of cancer is often related to the use of alcohol or tobacco or infection with the human papilloma virus (HPV).
Diagnosis and Treatment
To find out what's causing your mouth numbness, see your doctor or dentist. They will ask questions about your symptoms and your medical history and, if necessary, perform testing. Testing may include allergy assessments, blood tests or other tests your doctor deems necessary.
Once the cause of the numbness has been determined, your doctor will discuss treatment options. For example, if a vitamin deficiency is to blame, you might be prescribed a vitamin supplement. In cases where a psychological cause is suspected, medications such as antidepressants may be helpful. Treatment for oral cancer might include surgery and radiation therapy. Your doctor or dentist can provide more specific information about the appropriate treatment for you.
A wide variety of conditions can lead to numbness in the mouth, but treatments are available. If your mouth is feeling numb, make an appointment with your doctor or dentist.