Numbness and Tingling of the Tongue (Paresthesia)

What is tongue paresthesia?

Paresthesia of the tongue is any abnormal sensation from the tongue which includes sensations such as numbness, tingling or prickling (“pins and needles”). The tongue is one of the most sensitive organs of the body. Sensations of temperature, pressure, texture and pain are often heightened on the tongue when compared to the skin and the tongue is also capable of a unique sensory function – taste. The tongue has a rich nerve supply and part of the reason why the tongue is so sensitive is that it is lined with a delicate mucuous membrane. As with any part of the body, there may at times be abnormal sensations from the tongue. When this involves the sense of taste, it is known as dygeusia. If it affects the other sensory components of the tongue leading to sensations such as numbness, tingling, prickling (“pins and needles”) or burning then it is known as paresthesia.

Meaning of tongue parestheia

Abnormal sensations on any part of the body indicates a problem with the receptors, nerves or brain centers responsible for processing the signals. Receptors on the tongue are the nerve endings that have special functions. Some are able to detect changes in temperature (thermoreceptors), others can detect pressure and texture (mechanoreceptors) and there are also receptors for pain (nociceptors). The taste buds have the receptors for the sense of taste. When these receptors are exposed to specific stimuli, it elicits electrical impulses. The strength of these impulses depend on the degree of stimulation. For example, exposure to very firm pressure on the tongue will cause stronger impulses from the mechanoreceptors than light pressure. These impulses then travel along the lingual nerve to specific areas of the brain where it is decoded and experienced as a specific sensation. This process is similar in every part of the body. The only exception with the tongue is that it is also capable of detecting the chemical composition of different substances it is exposed to which is known as the sense of taste.

Paresthesia can affect any part of the body, and does not only occur on the tongue. It indicates a problem with a receptor or nerve, and less often with the brain. This means that the receptor or nerve is stimulated although there is no stimulus present on the tongue. In these instances, a person may feel heat, cold, pressure or even pain for no clearly evident reason. Tingling, prickling (pins and needles) or burning of the tongue are other sensations that may be present which is a more clear indication of a disorder with the receptor or nerve. Sometimes, as is the case with numbness, the disorder with the receptor or nerve means that it is not able to detect different stimuli to the same degree as is normally the case. Irrespective of the type of sensation, the presence of these abnormalities indicates a problem with a receptor or nerve that may be a sign of nerve inflammation, compression or damage. Similarly these may be an underlying problem in the sensory center within the brain where the nerve impulses are received, decoded and interpreted as specific sensation.

Causes of tongue numbness and tingling

Medication and Substances

Although the mechanism of tongue numbness and tingling has been attributed to disorders of the receptors, nerves or brain centers thus far, there are instances where these sensations may occur due to substance use. Ingesting caustic agents, topical anesthetics, certain types of alcohol, prescription drugs and illicit substances (narcotics) may cause abnormal sensations when exposed to the tissue of the tongue. This is usually short term and should pass on its own unless it permanently damages the tissues of the tongue or nerves. Numbness and tingling of the tongue with prescription medication is more likely to be due to a side effect or drug interaction and does not usually cause damage to the tongue or nerves.

Poisoning and Toxins

A number of natural or artificial toxins can cause numbness or tingling of the tongue. In most cases these are substances that are ingested and directly exposed to the tongue. One of the more common of these natural poisons is the ciguatera toxin which is found in certain types of fish and marine life, like baracuda, sea bass and eel and causes ciguatera fish poisoning. Another types of poisoning is scombroid food poisoning which may arise with eating decayed fish that were not properly refrigerated.

Fugu is a pufferfish that contain large amounts of a deadly toxin known tetrodotoxin. It is concentrated within the skin, liver and ovaries of the fish. Fugu can only be prepared by licenced chefs or it can be lethal. It is, however, common practice for a small amount of the toxin to be retained in the fish to enhance the culinary experience. This can cause numbness and tingling of the tongue and lips which passes shortly thereafter. However, these symptoms may also be present with poisoning and if not prepared properly with just a minimal dose of the toxin, it can be lethal.

Poisoning with other substances, particularly heavy metals, may also cause numbness and tingling of different parts of the body including the tongue.

Dental Surgery

Numbness of the tongue, lips, the inner parts of the mouth and face is a common effect of anesthesia use in dental procedures. As it wears off there may be some tingling, later followed by aches and pain as a result of the trauma to the mouth. This is temporary and will pass as the tissue heals. However, in some cases there may be nerve damage during the course of the dental procedure. This can lead to permanent numbness and/or tingling of the tongue. Such complications may arise with major dental procedures such as a root canal, wisdom tooth extraction, dental implants where there is injury or damage of the lingual nerve that supplies the tongue.

Trauma

Any injury to the tongue may cause pain as well as other abnormal sensations like tingling as a result of inflammation of the tongue (glossitis). Severe injury that damages receptors or nerves of the tongue may lead to numbness, which may follow acute pain. Common injuries may be a result of eating or drinking very hot foods and beverages, strong acids or alkalis, tongue piercings or biting the tongue. Very cold foods or beverages may also cause temporary numbness or tingling. In these cases, the cause is usually clearly identifiable. Radiation exposure to the mouth, usually as a part of cancer treatment, can irritate the tissues of the tongue, receptors or nerves. Another possible cause is tobacco chewing or areca nut and betel leaf chewing but numbness and tingling of the tongue is more likely to occur in occasional users.

Infections

A number of infections may involve the tongue or nerves supplying the tongue thereby leading to pain more commonly or paresthesia. The most notable of these is a herpes simplex virus (oral herpes) or reactivation of varicella zoster (chickenpox virus) causing shingles (herpes zoster). Other common tongue infections like oral thrush (candidiasis) is unlikely to cause symptoms like numbness or tingling of the tongue but it is possible.

Vitamins and minerals

An excess or deficiency of certain micronutrients may also lead to paresthesia of the tongue. The main imbalances that may lead to numbness and tingling of the tongue is an excess of deficiency of calcium, sodium or potassium. A deficiency of vitamin B12 may also cause numbness and tingling of the tongue.

Other causes

There are various other causes which can cause paresthesia of the tongue although numbness and tingling may also be experienced on other parts of the body as well, and not specifically in the tongue.

  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Stroke and transient ischemic attack (TIA)
  • Tumors pressing against the nerves or a brain tumor
  • Burning mouth syndrome
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Migraines
  • Facial palsy

Please note that any information or feedback on this website is not intended to replace a consultation with a health care professional and will not constitute a medical diagnosis. By using this website and the comment service you agree to abide by the comment terms and conditions as outlined on this page

Ask a Doctor Online Now!

  • Are there viruses that can cause tongue paresthesia? There’s been an epidemy in my family and none of the possible causes here listed give a plausible explanation.

  • Hi Nick. It is possible that this is an infectious cause considering that several members of the family have been affected. Such an infectious agent would most likely by targeting the nerves and this may appear with paresthesias elsewhere on the head or related nerve symptoms. Another possible cause is exposure to some toxin either in contaminated food or water supply which would explain why the several family members are affected. It is really difficult to say for sure and you should consult with your doctor at this point.

  • Tanya Farris

    I have woken up 3 times now in the middle of the night and when trying to go back to sleep I start to have a floating sensation (one you would have when receiving a high dose medication like morphine or demoral), my tongue begins to tingle as if the circulation is being cut off (the same pins/needles feeling you would have in your hand or foot) and even though my eyes are closed it seems like I have bright lights being flashed at me. This all goes on and I feel (honestly) the same way I felt when my dentist gave me laughing gas. For the last year and a half I have been suffering with neuropathy that effects both feet and legs (the doctors cannot explain it and no one can agree on any single thing). If anyone has any idea of what I am talking about or a direction they could point me in I would be forever grateful.

  • Hi Tanya. Hopefully you have told your doctor about these sensations that you are experiencing when in bed because it does raise the concern about it being a central nervous system (CNS) disorder as compared to your neuropathy of the legs where the focus would be solely on your peripheral nerves. The concern would be whether this is related to chronic nerve disorders possibly due to autoimmune disease. We wouldn’t like to focus on specific diseases as this is just a hypothesis. But sometimes the early symptoms of these diseases can present with rather uncharacteristic and unusual symptoms. Hopefully some of our other readers would be able to assist you. If you are not seeing a neurologist as yet then please speak to your doctor about a referral.

  • Rachel

    I had outpatient surgery on Wednesday (today is Sunday) and since then, the tip of my tongue has been numb and there is a white vertical line at the numbness spot. The anesthesiologist said that sometimes patients have nerve damage due to intubation during surgery, and it should subside a few days after the procedure. It has been 4 days without change. Should I be worried?

  • Ann Jesse

    What about a tingling tongue and lips during and shortly after hair color application?

  • Hi Ann. This could very possibly be an allergic reaction to the hair dye. It is not uncommon. You may want to read up more on hair dye allergies in this article http://www.healthhype.com/hair-dye-allergies.html

  • MrsVenus27

    I have been looking for the words on how to describe the feeling I am getting in my tongue at the moment, & this is it exactly! Its a horrible weird feeling. Have you found out what it is yet?

  • Elaine Ryan

    I was stung on the foot last night by a scorpion and almost immediately my lips and tongue began to tingle. I took Benedryl right away and put ice packs on my foot. This morning my lips and tongue are still tingling and I am having that sensation in both hands as well.

  • Hi Elaine. Hopefully your symptoms have resolved by now. Although self-medicating as you did was the best option at the time, do not avoid such symptoms for future reference. Even if you did not have a severe allergic reaction known as anaphylaxis it can arise with future stings. Speak to your doctor about it so that you can take the necessary measures in the future and if in doubt go to the ER immediately especially when symptoms like tightness in the throat or difficulty breathing arises.

  • Renee

    My house too. We are all passing around a flu virus but even after getting well my tongue is still wierd and my daughter and son have both voiced complaints about theirs.

  • stormey

    I have been having chest pains for about 2-3weeks now not hardcore but still pain and today I was talking to a friend and my chest started hurting a little and then my tongue went numb.. What does this mean??

  • ErthAngel

    Hi stormey, Did your symtoms subside or you get any feedback as to what is going on? My 20 yr old daughter had chest pains a few days ago (went to Dr and they said has the heart of a conditioned athlete). Has had ongoing ‘pressure’ and now the tip of her tongue is numb. Would appreciate any help.

  • Nakecia Burks

    I have had a toothache for awhile which I just got removed. Before and After the removal of the tooth I have been have pains in my tongue and gum area where the tooth was removed from. Now I was having the same pain while the tooth was there which is why I had it removed, but this feeling in my tongue is crazy, it feels like pins and needles in my tongue. What could it be?

  • Ryan

    Hi, just a few hours ago, the back-right side of my tongue and roof of my mouth started to go slightly numb. Not entirely though. It happened only after I finished eating an apple, though I don’t think that really has anything to do with it, you never know.

    I don’t know what I’m looking for by posting a comment here. Maybe just an opinion?

  • Hi Ryan. It could very well be related to some chemicals on the surface of the apple which may cause temporary numbness. However, if this numbness persist or tends to recur every now and then, you should consult with a doctor. This may be an early symptom of some disease, most likely a neurological condition. Your doctor will be able to advise you further.

  • JANA OSTERHOUT

    Ryan, did your symptoms go away? I am having the exact same symptom as you described, but I was eating a hot dog, and mine has stayed numb for about 16 hours so far. It is the same side, the back of my tongue and roof of my mouth in the back. I have brushed my teeth and nothing seems to help.

  • Monalisa Cassell

    The top surface of my tongue has an odd sensation that’s been going on for the past 48h. I could “feel” pressure, rubbing, but I’m barely able to taste the sweet or salty, unless the food went all the way to the lower edge side of the tongue. I’m NOT a smoker or alcohol drinker, and this condition concerns me. What specialist MD should I visit?

  • Bart Wilson

    I agree with HealthHype. And wash your apples (and all fruit/veg) thoroughly before eating. Even if the apple wasn’t the cause, it could have been. They put a lot of stuff on apples that they shouldn’t.

  • Hi Monalisa. You should start with your family doctor. There are a host of possible causes of this symptoms, ranging from injury to an infection or nerve problems. Depending on a possible cause your doctor will then refer you to the appropriate specialists, like a neurologist if it is suspected that it is a nerve problem.

  • Danny Hopper

    I fell asleep and woke up with my tongue numb and a taste in my mouth which I can’t describe, Like I had a penny in my mouth is the best I can describe, my mouth was really watery as well.

  • Hi Danny. Assuming that you mean a metallic taste. This is often related to bleeding. However the unusual taste and watery mouth could also be acid reflux. It is more likely to occur when lying flat. The stomach acid can rise as high as the mouth and has a sour to bitter tastes. The excess saliva is the body’s way of trying to neutralize the acid since saliva is an alkali. The numbness is not characterstic but could occur with irritation caused by the acid. However there is the possibility that this is a neurological (nerve related) problem. Only way to know for sure is to speak to a doctor.

  • Kari

    Hi I’ve been treated for an upper respiratory infection for the last 5days. I stopped my Afrin and Flonase and codeine cough syrup a day ago,however I decided to continue my Claritin D and it is 24 hr . Yesterday I accidentally took it an hour earlier. I immediately felt really funny this lasted for a little while then dissipated I went to bed at 12am and was woken at 3am by a very uncomfortable feeling. Just not right. It’s now 6 am and I’m still not feeling right. I’ve had to use the restroom several times bm. And have felt a tingling feeling in my head and are experiencing some coughing and just apprehensive like a racing of uneasiness.

  • Hi Kari. Hopefully you are feeling better now. We unfortunately do not provide information on a current prescription. You have to refer to your doctor or pharmacist. While you may feel that certain drugs are not necessary, always try to speak to your doctor or pharmacist before stopping it. With regards to your question, taking the medication an hour earlier is unlikely to have the effect you are describing.

  • Kari

    I’ve actually met others that had the same reactions Very scary.
    I did stop all meds and used an oil called oregano . It started clearing my lungs immediately!

  • Hi Kari. Thank you for the feedback.