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Treatment for Lingual Nerve Injury

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Medically Reviewed By Colgate Global Scientific Communications

Consider the tongue: One of the most unique muscles in the human body, it's truly a jack of all trades. The tongue helps the mouth-cleaning process, perceives five different taste categories, and works with the lips and teeth to spit out more than 90 words a minute. (On the downside, it harbors bad breath-causing bacteria – but no body part's perfect.)

Assisting the tongue to do its amazing job is the lingual nerve. So, if you injure that nerve, how would it affect your tongue as it undertakes functions essential to daily life? We'll provide the answer and offer ways to treat the injury so the tongue can properly do its many jobs.

What's the Lingual Nerve?

Branching off the mandibular (lower jaw) nerve, the lingual nerve (LN) provides sensory stimulation that allows you to experience taste and tongue sensations. It runs along the front two-thirds of your tongue and is involved in carrying your taste bud cells.

Enjoy the flavors of your favorite pizza? Thank the lingual nerve. Burn your tongue when biting into a hot slice? Thank, or rather, curse the lingual nerve.

The lingual nerve is essential for enjoying many of life's olfactory pleasures. Plus, the less-than-pleasurable sensations it provides keep your mouth safe. Imagine if you couldn't feel your tongue burning or the sharp ache of biting your tongue – you might further damage your tongue and mouth without feeling a thing.

Did You Know? "Lingual" comes from the Latin "lingua," meaning "tongue" or "language." It's a root word of "linguistics," meaning the study of language.

LN Injury Causes and Potential Preventive Measures

Oral procedures are the main culprits that can injure your LN. The National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) site features research published in StatsPearl indicating these procedures could potentially harm the lingual nerve:

  • Wisdom tooth removal
  • Lower jaw surgery
  • Salivary gland operations
  • Tumor removal
  • Larynx procedures
  • Oral anesthetic procedures

Since removing wisdom teeth is the most common procedure that can lead to LN damage, dental professionals have developed methods to reduce the chance of injury, notes the StatsPearl study. Ask your dental professional about tooth sectioning and lingual flap procedures that might prevent an LN injury during a wisdom tooth extraction.

LN Injury Symptoms

If your lingual nerve sustains an injury, you'll most likely experience any of these nerve damage symptoms:

  • Changed sensation in the tongue, chin, or lower lip areas (similar to sensations you feel when your oral cavity is numbed for a dental procedure or as the anesthesia slowly wears off)
  • Altered ability to taste
  • Difficulty speaking or eating
  • Pain that might be experienced as a burning sensation

Since a lingual nerve injury affects speaking and tasting, it can affect your daily life. The good news is that a majority of lingual nerve injuries are temporary. After eight weeks, approximately 90 percent of the injuries heal on their own. That's so encouraging!

If the injury lasts longer than six months, the damage, unfortunately, is probably permanent. In addition to the physical symptoms, the temporary or permanent injury can make it more difficult to socialize and perhaps cause emotional issues.

Treatment Options for an LN Injury

We're here to provide not only treatment options but hope that you can heal. If you think you've suffered an LN injury, consult your dental or medical professional right away. They might recommend these treatment options:

  • Prescription drugs, like painkillers and antidepressants
  • Laser treatments to restore some sensation
  • One of many surgical procedures, such as external or internal neurolysis (removal of scar tissue)
  • Nerve blocks to reduce pain
  • Nerve grafts
  • Relaxation therapy and hypnosis

Who knew the tongue and its lingual nerve influenced so much of your day-to-day life, affecting your oral and your emotional health?! That's why it's important to know what can cause lingual nerve damage, so you can discuss preventive measures to reduce the chance of injury. Also, be aware of any symptoms so you can seek treatment immediately. We want your lingual nerve to be stimulating - that is, activating your tongue so you can eat, drink, and be merry!

Oral Care Center articles are reviewed by an oral health medical professional. This information is for educational purposes only. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist, physician or other qualified healthcare provider. 

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