If you suddenly lose feeling in your mouth or the ability to move your tongue, lips, or jaw, you might be concerned.
In most cases, it's nothing to worry about. Everyday factors like dental work or stress can cause numbness. But in some cases, other medical conditions can be the cause.
In this article, we'll examine everything you need to know about numbness in the mouth, what you can do about it, and when to take further action.
What Is Mouth Numbness, Exactly?
Numb mouth (medically referred to as paresthesia) describes the loss of sensation in your lips, tongue, and/or jaw. It can be accompanied by a tingling or burning feeling.
Mouth numbness may occur suddenly or gradually and its duration can vary from being fleeting to persisting for hours. In some cases, it is seemingly permanent.
Just like anywhere else in the body, numbing in the mouth is the result of blocked nerve pathways. The causes of these blockages can range from psychological to physiological in nature and the best course of action will depend on what’s causing your numbness.
Symptoms And Characteristics Of Mouth Numbness
The symptoms of mouth numbness can vary depending on the underlying cause, but there are some common characteristics that are frequently reported by individuals who experience this condition.
- Tingling or prickling sensation: One of the most common characteristics of mouth numbness is a tingling or prickling sensation in the mouth. This can feel like pins and needles, a numb or tingling tongue, or a strange feeling on your teeth. A feeling of numbness or loss of sensation may accompany it.
- Difficulty speaking or swallowing: Mouth numbness can also make it difficult to speak or swallow properly. This can be especially concerning if the numbness is severe or persistent, as it can interfere with normal daily activities. If numbness affects your lips, you may also have trouble drinking liquids or sipping from a straw.
- Sensitivity to hot or cold: Some individuals with mouth numbness may experience sensitivity to hot or cold temperatures in the mouth. This can be a sign of nerve damage or inflammation in the affected area.
- Loss of taste: In some cases, mouth numbness can cause a loss of taste sensation. This can be a frustrating symptom, as it can make it difficult to enjoy food and beverages.
- Dry mouth: Mouth numbness can also cause dry mouth, which can be uncomfortable and increase the risk of dental problems.
- Ulcers: If your condition or underlying cause causes mouth ulcers, these can be painful and difficult to manage.
It's important to note that these characteristics may not all be present in every case of mouth numbness. The severity and duration of symptoms varies depending on the underlying cause.
Possible Causes Of Numb Mouth
As one of the most common oral problems, a numb mouth can result from several different factors (or a combination of multiple).
Let's take a look at all potential causes of numbness to help you evaluate your situation.
Dental work is the most common cause of numbness in your mouth area. Whether you go through regular orthodontic treatment or a more invasive procedure like a root canal or tooth extraction, a loss of feeling throughout your oral cavity is completely normal and expected.
Dental procedures like these usually involve numbing agents, and you will typically feel the numbness gradually wear off after a few hours.
You may experience prolonged numbness throughout your mouth as you adjust to the new filling, crown, or other dental appliance. For instance, a meeting with your orthodontist to have your braces tightened might result in numbness lasting up to three days as you get used to the pressure from the tightening.
Stress And Anxiety
Stress and anxiety can cause a range of physical symptoms, including numbness in the mouth. The exact mechanisms behind this are not fully understood, and stress cannot cause nerve damage (it actually amplifies pain in existing nerve-related conditions). However, chronic stress and anxiety can cause neuropathy, damaging the nervous system.
Here are some ways that stress and anxiety can contribute to mouth numbness:
- Increased muscle tension: When stressed or anxious, your muscles tend to tense up. This can include the muscles in your face and jaw, which can put pressure on nerves and cause numbness or tingling in the mouth.
- Hyperventilation: Stress and anxiety can cause you to breathe more rapidly and shallowly, leading to hyperventilation. This can result in a drop in carbon dioxide levels in the blood, which can cause numbness or tingling sensations in the mouth and other parts of the body.
- Panic attacks: During a panic attack, your body goes into "fight or flight" mode, which can cause a range of dramatic physical symptoms, including numbness and tingling.
- Poor oral health: Stress and anxiety impact oral health by leading to poor oral health habits, such as teeth grinding or clenching, which can put additional pressure on nerves and cause mouth numbness.
Stress and anxiety come from a wide range of courses, including mental health conditions, work or school stress, financial difficulties, relationship issues, and other external factors.
If you think your mouth numbness may be related to stress or anxiety, learning how to proactively manage your stress is critical to long-term relief.
Some nutrient deficiencies cause poor circulation in your extremities, mouth area, and other parts of the body.
If your body is deficient in any of these vital nutrients, you may experience prolonged mouth numbness or tingling sensations:
- Vitamin B12: Vitamin B12 helps produce new nerve cells and is essential for healthy neurological functioning.
- Folate (vitamin B9): Folate is important for maintaining the health of your red blood cells.
- Magnesium: Magnesium helps your body absorb other key nutrients like vitamin D and calcium, which are important for healthy nerve functioning.
- Vitamin B6: Vitamin B6 is another important vitamin for healthy nerve functioning and can help control inflammation.
- Iron: Iron helps your body carry oxygen-rich blood throughout your body, including the mouth area.
Vitamin deficiencies can also cause a purple tongue if your circulation is poor or you have an underlying medical condition like anemia.
Over 25% of people suffer from seasonal allergies, and between 10% and 30% of the population is allergic to something. Allergies can cause a range of uncomfortable symptoms, including mouth numbness.
An allergic reaction typically occurs when your body comes into contact with an allergen such as pollen, pet dander, certain foods, insects, and medications.
When this happens, your immune system releases immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies to fight off the allergen, and this can cause symptoms like numbness or tingling in the mouth, especially if your body is reacting to a food allergy.
Hypocalcemia is a medical condition that occurs when there is a lower-than-normal level of calcium in the blood.
Calcium is an essential mineral that plays a key role in many bodily functions, including muscle contraction, nerve function, and bone health. When calcium levels are low, it can cause a range of symptoms, including a loss of feeling in the mouth—one of its most common clinical manifestations.
Here's exactly how hypocalcemia can potentially lead to numbness in the mouth:
- Calcium and nerve function: Calcium is critical for proper nerve function, including the nerves controlling the mouth and face muscles. When calcium levels are low, it can interfere with the ability of these nerves to function properly, leading to numbness or tingling sensations.
- Hyperventilation: As mentioned earlier, hyperventilation can lead to a drop in carbon dioxide levels in the blood, which can cause numbness or tingling sensations in the mouth.
- Muscle spasms: In severe cases of hypocalcemia, muscle spasms and contractions can occur. These spasms can put pressure on nerves and cause numbness or tingling sensations in the mouth and other parts of the body.
Hypoglycemia is a medical condition that occurs when there is a lower-than-normal level of sugar (glucose) in the blood.
Low glucose levels can lead to a range of symptoms, including numbness or tingling sensations in the mouth.
This is a significant concern for patients with diabetes, as low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) is a common complication of the disease. Hypoglycemia is one of the primary ways diabetes impacts oral health.
Nerve-related paresthesia is another potential cause of mouth numbness. This type of numbness occurs when the nerves in the jaw or facial area are damaged or compressed, leading to a loss of sensation or tingling in the mouth.
Most commonly, nerve-related paresthesia is caused by one of the following:
- Trauma or injury: Nerve damage in the facial area can be caused by trauma or injury, such as a car accident, fall, or sports-related injury. This can cause the nerves to become compressed or damaged, leading to numbness or tingling sensations in the mouth.
- Dental procedures: Some dental procedures, such as tooth extraction or root canal treatment, can cause nerve damage in the jaw or facial area. This can lead to numbness or tingling in the mouth, which may be temporary or permanent depending on the severity of the damage.
- Medical conditions: Certain medical conditions, such as multiple sclerosis or Bell's palsy, can cause nerve damage in the facial area, leading to numbness or tingling in the mouth.
- Infections: Infections, such as shingles or herpes simplex virus (i.e., cold sores), can cause nerve damage in the facial area, leading to numbness or tingling sensations in the mouth.
Treatment for nerve-related paresthesia will depend on the underlying cause and severity of the damage.
Burning Mouth Syndrome
Burning mouth syndrome (BMS) is a condition characterized by a burning or tingling sensation in the mouth. It can also cause numbness, especially if the nerves have been damaged due to an underlying medical condition.
The exact cause of BMS is not known, but it is thought to be related to nerve damage caused by certain medical conditions, such as diabetes or an autoimmune disorder. Treatment for BMS typically involves medications to reduce inflammation and pain, as well as lifestyle modifications to help manage symptoms.
During a seizure, electrical activity in the brain is disrupted, leading to a range of symptoms, including some that can impact your mouth. These include numbness or tingling in the mouth, as well as an unusual taste in the mouth.
Seizures can be caused by a variety of conditions, including epilepsy or head injury. Treatment for seizures will depend on the underlying cause and may involve medications to reduce seizure activity.
Multiple Sclerosis (MS)
MS is a progressive neurological disorder that affects the central nervous system. It can cause damage to the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, leading to a range of symptoms, including numbness or tingling in the mouth.
Treatment for MS will depend on the severity of symptoms and may involve medications to reduce inflammation and slow disease progression, as well as lifestyle modifications to help manage symptoms.
Oral cancer is one of the most severe causes of mouth numbness. This type of cancer can cause damage to the nerves in the mouth, leading to a loss of sensation around the affected areas.
Treatment for oral cancer typically involves surgery to remove the tumor and radiation and chemotherapy to help reduce the risk of recurrence.
It is important to seek medical attention immediately if you experience any symptoms of oral cancer, as early detection and treatment can greatly improve outcomes.
Caring For And Reacting To Numbness In The Mouth
How exactly you should care for and react to numbness in the mouth will depend on its underlying cause.
If you experience numbness or tingling in your mouth that is not caused by an obvious trauma or injury, it is important to seek medical attention as soon as possible. This can help to identify the underlying cause and determine the best course of treatment.
Here are a few different ways to manage the symptoms of numbness in the mouth:
Caring For Stress-Related Mouth Numbness
If you are experiencing mouth numbness due to stress or anxiety, there are several things you can do to help manage your symptoms. These may include:
- Practicing relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing, meditation, or yoga, helps reduce stress and tension in the body.
- Getting regular exercise, which can help reduce stress and improve circulation throughout the body.
- Seeing a mental health professional for therapy or counseling to help you manage your stress and anxiety.
- Practicing good oral hygiene habits, such as brushing and flossing regularly, to help prevent dental problems that can contribute to mouth numbness.
If your mouth numbness is severe or persistent, it's important to speak with your healthcare provider to rule out any underlying medical conditions.
Reacting To Circulatory Problems In The Mouth
If your mouth numbness is caused by a circulatory problem, there are several steps you can take to help manage your symptoms.
Common remedies include:
- Avoiding foods and drinks that can increase blood flow to the head and face, such as caffeine or alcohol.
- Elevating your head when sleeping or lying down to reduce blood pooling in the head and face.
- Wearing loose-fitting clothing to help improve circulation.
- Exercising regularly to improve overall circulation throughout the body.
If you have a circulatory issue, there's a good chance that a vitamin deficiency is causing it. In such cases, you should visit a doctor to get a blood test and determine the deficiency. Then, you can change your diet to include more of the missing vitamins.
Managing Symptoms Of Injury Or Trauma Of The Mouth
If you've experienced an injury or trauma to your mouth, such as a dental procedure or sports-related accident, it is important to take the necessary steps to help manage your symptoms. These may include:
- Resting the affected area and refraining from any activities that could further irritate it.
- Applying cold compresses to reduce swelling and discomfort from a mouth rash or burned tongue.
- Using over-the-counter pain medications to manage pain and discomfort.
Again, symptoms of numbness in the mouth should go away within a few days of adjusting to the trauma. If the numbness persists for more than a week or two or is accompanied by other signs and symptoms of a more serious condition, you should ask your doctor or dentist what the best course of action is.
Mouth Numbness Prevention Tips
If you want to ensure you don't have to worry about numbness in your mouth, the best way to do so is to take preventive measures.
Here are some tips to help prevent mouth numbness:
- Practice good oral hygiene. Brush and floss your teeth regularly to prevent dental problems that can lead to nerve damage and other oral health problems.
- Wear protective gear. If you play sports or engage in activities that carry a risk of facial injury, such as cycling or skiing, wear protective gear such as a helmet or mouthguard to help prevent nerve damage.
- Take breaks during dental procedures. If you're undergoing a dental procedure that requires you to keep your mouth open for an extended period of time, ask your dentist for breaks to help prevent nerve damage.
- Manage medical conditions. If you have a medical condition such as diabetes or multiple sclerosis that increases your risk of nerve damage, work with your healthcare provider to manage your condition and reduce your risk of mouth numbness.
- Manage your stress and anxiety. Stress and anxiety can contribute to mouth numbness, so practicing relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, or yoga can help reduce your risk of this symptom.
- Avoid smoking and excessive alcohol consumption. Both smoking and excessive alcohol consumption can increase your risk of nerve damage, so it's important to avoid these habits to help prevent mouth numbness and other health problems.
Want to learn more? Here are the questions our customers ask us the most.
Can Stress Make Your Mouth Numb?
Yes, stress can cause mouth numbness. When you are stressed, your muscles can tense up, including those in your face and jaw, which can put pressure on nerves and cause numbness or tingling sensations in the mouth. Additionally, stress can cause hyperventilation, leading to a drop in carbon dioxide levels in the blood and causing numbness or tingling in your oral cavity.
Can Dehydration Cause Numbness In The Mouth?
Yes, dehydration can cause numbness in the mouth. When the body is dehydrated, it can affect the function of nerves, leading to numbness or tingling sensations in the mouth or other parts of the body. It can also cause your mouth to dry, which causes many different oral sensations.
Is A Numb Mouth A Symptom Of COVID?
While a numb mouth is not a common symptom of COVID-19, it is possible that it could be a symptom of the virus in some cases. COVID-19 can cause various neurological symptoms, including tingling or numbness in various parts of the body. If you experience a numb mouth along with other COVID-19 symptoms, such as fever, cough, or loss of taste or smell, you should get tested to rule out the possibility of infection.
Can Migraine Cause Mouth Numbness?
Although it is less common, migraines can sometimes cause numbness or tingling in the mouth. This is because when the brain is overstimulated during a migraine, it can cause abnormal nerve activity and lead to sensations of numbness or tingling in the face and mouth. If you experience this symptom along with other signs of a migraine, such as a headache and sensitivity to light, you
How Long Does Numbness Last?
The duration of mouth numbness can vary depending on the underlying cause. In some cases, it may be temporary and resolve on its own within a few minutes or hours. In other cases, it may be more persistent and require medical treatment to resolve.
What If My Mouth Is Still Numb After Five Hours?
Persistent numbness can be a sign of nerve damage or other underlying medical conditions that require medical intervention. However, five hours is not necessarily an indication of a long-term problem. If your numb mouth persists after five hours, paying close attention to your condition and monitoring its healing progress is best. If you notice your condition begins to worsen after a day or two, contact your doctor for further evaluation and treatment.