What causes tingling on the back of the tongue, and how can you find relief when discomfort strikes?
Read on for a comprehensive overview of what a tingling tongue is, why it’s happening to you, and how to improve your smile to mitigate the risk of future tingles!
Tongue Tingling: An Overview
Do you have–or have you had–a “pins and needles” feeling that covers some or all of your tongue?
Think of your arm falling asleep after having it in an uncomfortable position for too long, or your feet tingling after sitting on them for a period of time: that sensation is called “paresthesia” and can impact all parts of the body, including the tongue.
“Why Is My Tongue Tingling?” Common Causes And Concerns
There are a variety of medical concerns, procedures, and abnormalities that may trigger a tingling sensation on the tongue. While not all of them may be a cause for concern, it’s crucial to stay informed on your oral health so that you can seek medical treatment if an emergency is occurring.
Here are the most common reasons why your tongue may be tingling or numb.
1. Allergic Reaction
Seasonal allergies or allergies to certain foods or drinks can commonly cause a tongue to itch, swell, tingle, and/or go numb. This is due to allergies irritating the tongue.
Common allergenic triggers include, but aren’t limited to:
- Hay fever
- Insect bites
- Raw fruits or vegetables (due to their proteins being similar to those found in pollen)
- And seafood
Once numbness and tingling hit, it can spread to the mouth or throat.
Although most allergic reactions will go away on their own, it’s recommended to rinse your mouth out with water, take an antihistamine, avoid known allergenic triggers, and seek immediate medical intervention if the following signs of anaphylaxis occur: spots on tongue, hives, stomach cramps, rashes, a swollen throat, and difficulty breathing or swallowing.
2. Dental Procedure
If you’ve found that you experience a numb tongue after going in for a dental appointment, you’re not alone. In fact, it is extremely common that, when general anesthetics are used during dental procedures, numbness or tingling on and around the tongue may last upwards of four hours. For more intensive procedures, like multiple fillings, the average is upwards of nine hours.
However, is it possible to lose sensation in your tongue completely after a dental procedure?
Although the answer is technically “Yes”, it’s exceedingly rare, and can only happen during procedures that treat teeth close to where the tongue’s nerves are located (like wisdom teeth, for example.) This can technically cause semi-permanent and permanent tongue tingling and numbness.
Numbness and tingling can also linger if the anesthetic needle penetrates these tongue nerves, but typically returns in full within six months of treatment. If you find that you have a lingering numbness after any treatment, notify your dentist so that they can keep a professional eye on the situation.
3. Multiple Sclerosis
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a disease in which your immune system attacks the nerves in your own brain and spinal cord. This can trigger a numbness or tingling sensation in the tongue, especially when you manually clean your tongue with a toothbrush or dental tool.
If your tongue feels tingly and you have any of the symptoms listed below, it may be prudent to talk to your doctor about screening for MS:
- Numbness or tingling in the face
- Difficulty chewing or swallowing
- Trouble walking
- Chronic fatigue
- Double vision
- Strained urination
Although MS is a lifelong condition, the right medication can help mitigate symptoms and help you go longer between flare-ups.
4. Chronic Migraines
Frequent, recurring splitting headaches that include sensitivity to light, fatigue, nausea, and double vision are often classified as chronic migraines.
Migraine (a type of headache disorder) is one of the most common nervous system conditions and impacts approximately 50% of all adults worldwide. While doctors are uncertain what causes people to develop it, the top three migraine triggers are known to be a lack of sleep, hormonal changes, and certain foods (like dark chocolate or red wine.)
One of the warning symptoms of an oncoming migraine headache is a tingling sensation in the tongue, lips, face, and/or arms. This is also typically accompanied by sudden blind spots, nausea, and vomiting. Most migraines last for around three hours, with people being urged to go to the emergency room if theirs has lasted 72 hours or longer.
Hypocalcemia occurs when the level of calcium in your body drops below normal. Generally, it is accompanied by the following symptoms:
- A loss of feeling in the tongue, fingers, and toes
- Muscle twitches and cramps
It is most often brought on by low magnesium levels, low levels of vitamin D, untreated kidney disease, a complication of thyroid surgery, cancer treatment medications, or pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas). If you suspect that you or a loved one has hypocalcemia, it’s advised to visit your doctor ASAP so that they can conduct a diagnostic blood test.
Luckily, hypocalcemia is deemed very treatable and can be tackled at home via calcium supplements and a balanced diet.
Similar to hypocalcemia, hypoglycemia is brought on when the blood sugar in someone’s body drops below a safe level. This most commonly happens in people with diabetes if they skip meals, take too much insulin, or are adjusting to new medication for diabetes.
Related symptoms may include, but aren’t limited to:
- Excessive hunger
- Shakiness and general weakness
Eating or drinking something sugary–like juice or a fruit snack–is a tried-and-true way to curb hypoglycemia symptoms in a pinch. However, always seek out a medical professional for long-term hypoglycemia management recommendations.
6. Bell’s Palsy
If you or someone in your life has had an unexplained episode of facial muscle weakness or paralysis that, in severe cases, can mimic a stroke, then it’s likely that you’ve experienced Bell’s Palsy.
Bell’s Palsy is an unexplainable, often sudden condition that visibly worsens 48 hours after initial onset. The associated pain, discomfort, tongue tingling, and facial sagging it comes with generally occur only on one side of the face or head.
Although Bell’s Palsy can impact anyone of any age, those who are most at risk include pregnant women, those with diabetes, those with influenza, or those with herpes on the tongue. This is because, while the exact cause of Bell’s Palsy is unknown, it is widely thought to be the body’s reaction to inflammation around the nerve controlling facial movements.
It is rarely permanent and tends to resolve itself within two weeks to six months, as there is no known cure. However, most recover full facial strength and expression.
A stroke is a medical emergency that occurs when a blood clot cuts off the flow of blood to your brain and can result in permanent nerve damage–or death–if treatment is not received immediately.
Key warning signs of an impending stroke are:
- Tip of tongue tingling
- A stiff neck
- Difficulty comprehending what others are saying
- A drooping face
- Weakness or numbness in the face, arms, or legs
- Balancing issues
If you or someone you know is experiencing any of the symptoms above, please do not delay in seeking immediate treatment.
8. Cancer Or Tumor
Because mouth cancers and tumors frequently damage the nerves of your mouth that control sensation, they can cause numbness or tingling in the lips, tongue, cheeks, and general facial region. Black spots, lesions, or scabs on the tongue that do not heal–or general tongue discoloration–can also be early telltale signs that there is a serious health concern happening.
Other symptoms generally are:
- Mouth pain
- Lumps on the inside of the mouth
- Loose teeth
- Discomfort when chewing or swallowing
- Reddish or white rashes on the tongue or inside of the cheeks
Although frequent oral health screenings are recommended in order to detect early signs of cancers or tumors, a black or ashy tongue may also indicate an overgrowth of dead skin cells, staining from food or tobacco, or vitamin deficiencies. Only a medical professional can determine your oral health diagnosis.
9. Medication Reactions
A tingling tongue is a recognized side effect of many common prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) medications.
Some oral drugs have paresthesia listed as a side effect. An example of this is Acetazolamide (Diamox), which has a numb or tingling tongue as one of its top-listed temporary side effects.
Once the dosage of the administered drug is finished, the tingling should subside and soon ebb away completely with no lingering impacts on taste or movement. If a tingling tongue is bothering you when taking medication, ask your doctor if there is another brand you could attempt substituting.
10. Vitamin B Deficiency
Did you know that having low levels of vitamin B-12 or vitamin B-9 (commonly known as folate) can have a negative impact on your tongue health, and even cause a yellow tongue?
That’s right: if you are experiencing soreness, swelling, tingling, or numbness that affects your sense of taste, you may have low levels of vitamin B.
Ample levels of vitamin B in the body is essential for making red blood cells, which ward off anemia and keep your nerves healthy. Deficiencies can occur when there is a lack of vitamin B in your diet, or if your body is unable to break down vitamin B from the foods you are eating.
Medication is one of the most common reasons for vitamin B deficiency. Some of the ones that make it difficult for the body to absorb vitamin B are:
To supplement vitamin B, ensure that your diet has a healthy balance of seafood, dairy, eggs, green vegetables, and legumes. If left unchecked, vitamin B deficiencies can impact both your sense of taste long-term and could damage your nerves.
11. Canker Sores
Last but not least, canker sores are shallow oblong sores that form in and around your mouth–namely your tongue, gums, and the inside of your cheeks. They typically spring up in the wake of minor mouth injuries (like braces rubbing against your gums), hormonal changes, cold and flu viruses, poor nutrition, allergies, or food sensitivities.
Although they typically go away by themselves in a week or less, canker sores are painful and can cause the tongue to go numb if in close proximity to it. To heal a canker sore fast, it’s recommended to avoid foods that are spicy, sour, or crunchy.
Instead, rinse your mouth with warm water and salt every couple of hours to keep the sores clean. OTC painkillers can also be used in moderation to curb the pain while waiting for them to resolve itself.
When To Be Concerned About Tongue Tingling (And Symptoms To Watch Out For)
If you have a tingling tongue after eating, it’s likely benign, and the feeling will return within a few hours.
However, as we know, there are circumstances where tongue numbness may indicate an immediate medical emergency. If your tingling tongue is accompanied by any of the following symptoms, please go to your local emergency room ASAP for diagnosis and treatment:
- Sudden Paralysis: Sudden paralysis could indicate Bell’s Palsy, a multiple sclerosis flare-up, or a stroke.
- Balance and Coordination Concerns: Abrupt or worsening balance and coordination concerns could indicate MS, hypoglycemia, Bell’s Palsy, a stroke, vitamin B deficiencies, or undiagnosed cancers or tumors.
- Slurred Speech: Slurred speech, especially in conjunction with a numb tongue, could indicate a stroke, Bell’s Palsy, or MS.
- Sudden and Severe Headache: A sudden and severe headache–especially one that doesn’t resolve within 72 hours–could indicate a migraine or chronic headache syndrome.
- Vision Problems: Vision problems could indicate an array of concerns, all the way from hypocalcemia to a worsening medication reaction.
- Weakness or Numbness: Weakness or numbness that comes on rapidly or worsens could indicate severe dental procedure side-effects, MS, allergic reactions, MS, a stroke, and anything in between. See a doctor as soon as possible to determine what the cause is.
Alongside knowing which symptoms to seek urgent medical assistance for, it’s also vital to know about other frequently-asked questions regarding a tingling tongue. We’ve compiled the most useful of those questions below in one comprehensive guide.
How To Get Rid Of A Tingling Tongue?
Getting rid of a tingling tongue depends on the cause behind it. The most effective way to do this is to seek out professional medical treatment.
However, for mild numbness or tingling, the following steps can be taken at home to curb your discomfort:
- Rinse your mouth with cold water
- Take an OTC anti-inflammatory medication
- Avoid manually cleaning the tongue while it’s tingling with tongue scrapers or other tools until fully healed
If your tongue is numb or tingling, monitor the situation closely and take note of any changes to your situation so that your doctor can narrow down its causation.
Why Do Pineapples Make Your Tongue Tingle?
Pineapples are a food that many are allergic to, which can cause tongue numbness when consumed. However, even those who do not have a sensitivity to pineapple can experience a similar phenomenon: since pineapple is chock-full of an enzyme called bromelain, which is responsible for digesting protein, these enzymes attempt to digest the protein on your tongue as you eat.
This results in the tingling sensation that most people experience when eating pineapple–especially in large quantities.
Is A Tingling Tongue A Sign Of Diabetes?
While people with diabetes are at high risk of experiencing hypoglycemia–a drop in blood sugar that can trigger a tingling tongue–a tingling tongue in isolation is not a sign of diabetes.
It is best to consult a medical professional if you are concerned about being at risk of developing diabetes or are frequently experiencing hypoglycemia.
Why Does The Tip Of My Tongue Tingle?
A tingling tongue can be triggered by a variety of factors, all the way from general anesthesia during a dental procedure to a multiple sclerosis flare-up.
If you are frequently experiencing a numb or tingling tongue, seek out an expert opinion as soon as possible to rule out any serious health concerns.
Can Anxiety Cause A Tingling Tongue?
Yes, anxiety can trigger tongue paresthesia. It’s so common, in fact, that it has been dubbed “anxiety tongue”; however, it is generally described as more of a pins-and-needles sensation rather than standard tongue numbness or tingling.
This pins-and-needles sensation can also extend to extremities, like fingers and toes. Anxiety-triggered numbness typically subsides within 20 minutes and does not need any professional treatment.
How Do You Know If Your Tingling Is Serious?
If your tingling tongue is accompanied by dizziness, paralysis, headaches, vision concerns, tongue ulcers, slurred speech, weakness, or does not resolve itself within 24-48 hours, seek out the advice of a medical professional urgently. Any of these symptoms may indicate that your tongue numbness is a sign of a serious health concern.
Does Acid Reflux Cause A Tingling Tongue?
Although not a surefire sign of acid reflux, acid reflux can indeed cause a tingling tongue.
More commonly, however, symptoms of reflux are chronic coughing, heartburn, indigestion, and a sore throat. Additional symptoms (like numbness or tingling in the tongue, a purple tongue, or a metallic taste in the mouth) can point toward your reflux worsening over time.
Should I Be Worried About A Tingling Tongue?
If your tingling tongue remains mild and resolves itself within 24 hours, it is unlikely that it is anything to be concerned about.
With that being said, the underlying cause of tongue numbness–no matter how mild–should always be investigated to ensure that you can avoid triggers in the future and, if it is indicative of something more serious, seek treatment for it right away.
Why Am I Suddenly Biting My Tongue While Sleeping?
Facial muscle spasms (as seen in strokes, MS flare-ups, or Bell’s Palsy), changes to tongue sensation (like canker sores or vitamin B deficiency-related numbness), or a lack of facial control (for example, if general anesthesia is slow to wear off) can all contribute to suddenly biting down on your tongue while sleeping. Sleep apnea, stress, and braces are also common reasons.
If this becomes frequent or is causing you pain, inquire about solutions right away at your doctor or dentist’s office. They will most frequently recommend you to wear a night guard while sleeping to create a barrier between your tongue and your teeth.