Mouth Numbness Symptoms, Causes & Common Questions
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Numbness around and on the mouth commonly occurs during an allergic reaction to certain foods or chemicals. A cold sore or low calcium levels can also cause the mouth to feel numb. Read on for more information on different causes and how to treat a tingling mouth.
Mouth numbness symptoms
Most people describe numbness as a loss of sensation or feeling in a body part. You may feel numbness in your hand after falling asleep on a crooked arm or numbness in the leg after sitting in the same position for too long; however, numbness around the mouth is not usually a common occurrence. Mouth numbness, also known as perioral numbness, can feel strange and disconcerting. The numbness is often temporary, but unlike being able to find quick relief for symptoms such as hand numbness, perioral numbness may be more difficult to resolve. As a result, it is important to follow-up with your doctor and get appropriate care as soon as you notice symptoms.
Common characteristics of mouth numbness
Characteristics associated with mouth numbness include:
- Paresthesia: The medical term for numbness is paresthesia. Paresthesias are defined as dermal sensations with no apparent physical cause. Paresthesias include sensations such as prickling, tingling, or numbness — sensations many define as “pins and needles.”
- Tetany: Tetany is the medical term for an increase in peripheral neuromuscular irritability. This means that the peripheral nerves, the nerves throughout the body, are overexcited, resulting in repetitive stimulation of the muscles. This hyper-excitability can result in both sensory (paresthesia) and motor (twitching) manifestations. Tetany is a characteristic that results from specific causes that will be discussed later in this article.
Common accompanying symptoms
Mouth numbness can be associated with many different conditions and symptoms can vary. Symptoms associated with mouth numbness may include:
- Facial pain
- Muscle pain or cramping
- Hyperventilation (breathing very fast)
- Diaphoresis (sweating)
Mouth numbness causes
The cause of these sensations is usually due to transient disruption, pressure, or irritation to nerves in the affected area. Many different conditions can result in such damage, and are categorized into the following groups:
Inflammation is the body’s response to injury and foreign processes. It is the signal for the immune system to activate and work to fix the underlying problem.
- Allergic: If your tongue comes into contact with a food, chemical or substance that your body and immune system recognizes as harmful, it may swell and become tingly and numb due to the reaction. This is your body’s way of saying that it wants you to discontinue ingesting the triggering substance.
- Autoimmune: Many diseases result in the body attacking itself, causing widespread inflammation. These inflammatory diseases can also affect the nerves in and around the mouth and cause injury that results in numbness. Conditions such as Multiple Sclerosis and Lupus are examples of such autoimmune diseases.
- Infectious: Bacterial infections such as Lyme disease and multiple viral infections such as shingles can cause inflammation and nerve injury that results in numbness and paralysis of the face. This paralysis can spread to also include the mouth and around the tongue.
There are many electrolytes, vitamins, and other metabolic substances that the body must maintain in balance. This balance is called homeostasis and imbalances in this process can result in side effects such as numbness.
- Vitamin imbalance: There are certain vitamins that are essential to healthy nerve function such as vitamins D and B12. Deficiencies in these vitamins over time can lead to nerve damage and injury. Conversely, exposure to too much vitamin B6 can cause numbness.
- Mineral imbalance: There are certain minerals in the body such as calcium that are essential to the body’s general functioning. Deficiencies in these minerals can lead to tingling around the mouth and other accompanying symptoms such as hyperventilation and muscle cramps.
Systemic diseases refer to conditions that can affect multiple organ systems and processes.
- Central nervous system: Numbness of the tongue or around the month can often be the signaling symptom of central nervous system conditions such as imminent migraines or strokes.
- Metabolic: Dysfunction in the processes that your body uses day-to-day, for example, sugar regulation, can also affect the way your nerves function, causing numbness and tingling in the mouth, the tongue, and other body parts.
In some individuals, mouth numbness may be a symptom of stress and anxiety. Sometimes panic attacks (abrupt onset of fear or discomfort) can cause symptoms such as heart palpitations and hyperventilation that can cause the same electrolyte disturbances above and result in mouth numbness.
This list does not constitute medical advice and may not accurately represent what you have.
Allergic reaction (not life-threatening)
When the body encounters a harmful substance, it responds with inflammation and swelling that can be protective. In many individuals, the body responds this way to substances that are not normally harmful, like foods or pollen. This is the basis of allergy, or Type 1 Hypersensitivity.
Top Symptoms: swollen face, swollen lips, lip numbness, hives, red swollen bumps or patches with a pale center, lip redness
Symptoms that never occur with allergic reaction (not life-threatening): shortness of breath, throat itching
Urgency: Primary care doctor
Low calcium level
Hypocalcemia is a condition where there is not enough calcium in the blood. Calcium is a mineral contained in the blood, which helps the heart and other muscles function properly, and is needed to maintain strong teeth and bones.
Top Symptoms: fatigue, shortness of breath, irritability, general numbness, tingling foot
Urgency: Primary care doctor
A cold sore is a skin lesion on the lips caused by infection with the herpes simplex virus (HSV). Cold sores are extremely common. In fact, most adults are infected with HSV, usually transmitted in childhood by normal close contact with parents, siblings or friends.
While the infection can be entirely unnoti..
Spider bite requiring medical attention
Some spiders can be very dangerous. Even for the less dangerous ones, some people have serious reactions. If the symptoms of these reactions go untreated, it can be life-threatening.
Top Symptoms: nausea, abdominal pain (stomach ache), vomiting, fever, dizziness
Symptoms that always occur with spider bite requiring medical attention: spider bite
Urgency: Hospital emergency room
Hypoparathyroidism is a condition in the parathyroid glands do not produce enough parathyroid hormone. This leads to low levels of calcium in the blood, which can cause both short-term and long-term symptoms. Causes of hypoparathyroidism include surgery or radiation to the neck, aut..
Stroke or tia (transient ischemic attack)
Transient ischemic attack, or TIA, is sometimes called a "mini stroke" or a "warning stroke." Any stroke means that blood flow somewhere in the brain has been blocked by a clot.
Risk factors include smoking, obesity, and cardiovascular disease, though anyone can experience a TIA.
Symptoms are "transient," meaning they come and go within minutes because the clot dissolves or moves on its own. Stroke symptoms include weakness, numbness, and paralysis on one side of the face and/or body; slurred speech; abnormal vision; and sudden, severe headache.
A TIA does not cause permanent damage because it is over quickly. However, the patient must get treatment because a TIA is a warning that a more damaging stroke is likely to occur. Take the patient to the emergency room or call 9-1-1.
Diagnosis is made through patient history; physical examination; CT scan or MRI; and electrocardiogram.
Treatment includes anticoagulant medication to prevent further clots. Surgery to clear some of the arteries may also be recommended.
Top Symptoms: dizziness, leg numbness, arm numbness, new headache, stiff neck
Symptoms that never occur with stroke or tia (transient ischemic attack): bilateral weakness
Urgency: Emergency medical service
Diabetic neuropathy is nerve damage caused by longstanding or poorly controlled diabetes mellitus (DM). Other risk factors for developing diabetic neuropathy include obesity, smoking, cardiovascular disease, and abnormal lipid levels.
Diabetic neuropathy can present as a number ..
Chronic idiopathic peripheral neuropathy
Peripheral neuropathy refers to the feeling of numbness, tingling, and pins-and-needles sensation in the feet. Idiopathic means the cause is not known, and chronic means the condition is ongoing without getting better or worse.
The condition is most often found in people over age 60. Idiopathic neuropathy has no known cause.
Symptoms include uncomfortable numbness and tingling in the feet; difficulty standing or walking due to pain and lack of normal sensitivity; and weakness and cramping in the muscles of the feet and ankles.
Peripheral neuropathy can greatly interfere with quality of life, so a medical provider should be seen in order to treat the symptoms and reduce the discomfort.
Diagnosis is made through physical examination; blood tests to rule out other conditions; and neurologic and muscle studies such as electromyography.
Treatment involves over-the-counter pain relievers; prescription pain relievers to manage more severe pain; physical therapy and safety measures to compensate for loss of sensation in the feet; and therapeutic footwear to help with balance and walking.
Top Symptoms: distal numbness, muscle aches, joint stiffness, numbness on both sides of body, loss of muscle mass
Urgency: Primary care doctor
Mouth numbness treatments and relief
Treatment for mouth numbness is very dependent on the specific cause. If you are experiencing symptoms, it is important to make an appointment with your healthcare provider in order to get the appropriate diagnosis before treating your symptoms at home. Your healthcare provider may suggest the following at-home remedies depending on your diagnosis:
- Mineral imbalance: If a deficiency in a vitamin or mineral is the reason for your mouth numbness, your healthcare provider will suggest supplementation. For example, calcium and vitamin D supplements can be found over-the-counter and can be very effective in treating your symptoms.
- Allergies: If you are experiencing an allergic reaction, stop consuming the triggering substance.
When to see a doctor
If you are experiencing multiple associated symptoms in addition to your mouth numbness such as fever, swelling, muscle or facial pain, this is more of a reason to see your doctor and get an appropriate diagnosis. Your symptoms are more severe and may need more immediate in-hospital care.
When it is an emergency
Mouth numbness can be associated with serious metabolic disturbances that can result in life-threatening complications such as seizures and heart failure. If you experience symptoms of severe difficulty breathing or catching your breath (hyperventilation), seek immediate medical attention.
Furthermore, if you experience any symptoms of speech difficulty, facial drooping, or weakness to the point you cannot other body parts, call 911 immediately. These could be signs of a stroke.
If you experience tongue numbness in addition to wheezing or trouble breathing, difficulty swallowing, throat tightness, or hives, also call 911 immediately. These could be signs of a serious allergic reaction.
Preventative strategies include simple remedies such as:
- Proper nutrition: Eating a balanced range of fruits and vegetables that provide adequate vitamins and minerals.
- Maintaining low stress levels: If your symptoms are precipitated by stress, remedies such as yoga, exercise and meditation may help to control symptoms.
FAQs about mouth numbness
What is a panic attack?
Panic attacks are unprompted, discrete episodes of intense fear that happen abruptly and can last anywhere from minutes to an hour. Some people can experience recurrent episodes and suffer from panic disorder.
Is numbness of the mouth a sign of a stroke?
Sudden-onset numbness anywhere in the body, but especially the face and extremities, can be a sign of stroke and requires immediate medical attention. Here is a quick way to remember the signs of stroke and what to do: Act “FAST”
- F - FACE: Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop?
- A - ARMS: Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
- S - SPEECH: Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase. Is their speech slurred or strange?
- T - TIME: If you observe any of these signs, call 9-1-1 immediately.
Can numbness in the mouth be associated with anxiety?
Numbness and tingling in places like the mouth and fingers are common symptoms of anxiety and stress. These symptoms can precipitate episodes of anxiety but can also occur due to manifestations of anxiety such as hyperventilation.
What are symptoms of anaphylaxis?
Anaphylaxis is a severe allergic reaction. Symptoms can start out as mild and include signs such as rash or runny nose, but can quickly progress to serious symptoms such as trouble breathing, swelling, throat tightness, hives, nausea, and/or vomiting.
What type of supplements should I take to prevent mouth numbness?
Numbness of the mouth and around the mouth can be precipitated by low calcium in the blood (hypocalcemia). Supplements such as calcium and vitamin D can help treat the hypocalcemia and your symptoms. Depending on the specific cause of your symptoms, you may take the supplements for a short period of time or long-term.
Questions your doctor may ask about mouth numbness
- Where in your mouth are you numb?
- Does your throat feel itchy or irritated?
- Do you have a rash?
- Relax your face. Have someone else tap the corner of your mouth. Does your lip or face twitch with each tap? (This is known as Chvostek's sign.)
Self-diagnose with our free Buoy Assistant if you answer yes on any of these questions.
Dr. Gambrah-Lyles is a resident pediatrician at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. She is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine (2019). She graduated cum laude and received her undergraduate degree in Biochemistry and Spanish from Washington University in St. Louis (2013). Her research explores the intersections between neurology, public health, and infectious disease. She has investigated nutrition and cerebral palsy in Botswana, and completed a year-long project in Brazil, researching growth and developmental outcomes of Zika virus infection in pediatric patients as a Doris Duke International Scholar. Dr. Gambrah-Lyles speaks four languages, loves staying active, and enjoys sharing her love for medicine through teaching and writing.
- Fong J, Khan A. Hypocalcemia: updates in diagnosis and management for primary care. Can Fam Physician. 2012;58(2):158-62. NCBI Link
- Levin MC. Numbness. Merck Manual Consumer Version. Updated November 2016. Merck Manual Consumer Version Link
- Diabetic Neuropathy. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. NIDDK Link
- Act FAST. National Stroke Association. National Stroke Association Link
- Anaphylaxis. American College of Allergy Asthma & Immunology. Reviewed Jan. 29, 2018. ACAAI Link