While many people with MS experience numbness and tingling at some point, you may or may not have heard of or experienced mouth numbness and tingling — a particularly unpleasant feeling.
In multiple sclerosis, oral numbness, like other sensory disorders, is associated with damage to myelin, the fatty sheath that insulates nerve fibers. It usually occurs in lesions of the brain stem and may also affect the face.
As with other MS symptoms, healthcare providers can use MRI to diagnose new numbness. One study suggested also using trigeminal somatosensory evoked potentials as a diagnostic tool.
What does a numb mouth feel like?
Symptoms of oral numbness can vary:
- Some people describe mouth numbness as similar to filling a cavity (when your gums are numbed).
- Others describe a “swelling” or “burning” feeling on their tongue or elsewhere in their mouth.
Because of the numbness, some people may begin to chew and hold food on the unaffected (or less affected) side. Others may lose their appetite due to an unpleasant eating experience—if this is the case, it’s especially important to talk to your healthcare provider. Dental care providers also need to understand the issues that affect people with MS.
Can Tongue Numbness Be Treated?
There is no specific medicine to treat oral numbness. If it’s severe, your healthcare provider may prescribe a steroid to ease your symptoms. The good news is that MS-related numbness is usually temporary, so it should ease.
One thing to note is that you should be very careful chewing when you feel your mouth numb. Look for soft foods that don’t pose a choking hazard if not fully chewed, especially if you have trouble swallowing (another symptom of MS).
Also, chew slowly to avoid accidentally biting into the inside of your mouth, which can be painful. You also need to be careful about drinking hot liquids, as they can inadvertently burn your tongue or the inside of your mouth.
Are there other MS oral symptoms?
Remember that in addition to numbness, MS can cause other mouth-related symptoms.
Dysgeusia is common in MS, ranging in severity from mild to more severe.in a study Journal of Neurology, inspector Taste tests were performed on 73 MS patients and 73 matched controls. This test measures sweet (sucrose), sour (citric acid), bitter (caffeine), and salty (salt) taste sensations on the top and bottom of the tongue.
The results showed that MS patients had significantly lower taste recognition scores (the biggest deficit being salt) compared to controls.
Trigeminal neuralgia is a very painful facial condition. In multiple sclerosis, it’s caused by damage to the trigeminal nerve, a nerve in the face that sends sensory signals to the brain and helps control some of the muscles involved in chewing.
Trigeminal neuralgia attacks are brief (usually lasting a few seconds) but severe and debilitating, causing tingling, electric shock-like pain, usually in the jaw, teeth, and gums. It can usually be treated with the anti-seizure drugs Tegretol (carbamazepine) or Trileptal (oxcarbazepine).
What else can cause tongue numbness?
It’s a good idea to have tongue numbness checked by your healthcare provider, as it may not be due to your MS. There can be many other potential causes for this symptom, including:
- Allergies: Allergic reactions to foods and medications can cause the tongue to swell, which can impair nerve function.
- Raynaud’s syndrome: This condition mainly restricts blood flow to the fingers and toes, but it can also affect the lips and tongue. In rare cases, this may be the result of chemotherapy or radiation therapy.
- Infections: Certain infectious agents, including some herpes viruses, cause inflammation that can damage or compress the nerves around the mouth, causing numbness of the tongue and other nearby structures.
- Stroke in the thalamus: A stroke in the thalamus (a region of the brain) can cause numbness on the tip of the tongue and part of the lower lip.
- Vitamin B12 deficiency: Low levels of this important vitamin can cause inflammation of the tongue, which can interfere with nerve function.
In some cases, such as strokes and infections, tongue numbness can be an early sign of serious medical problems. If your tongue is numb and you have trouble breathing or any severe symptoms, call your healthcare provider or see a doctor right away.
B12 deficiency and multiple sclerosis
If you have MS and are experiencing isolated oral numbness (or other mouth-related symptoms), you can at least point to MS as a possible cause. Consider yourself lucky if your neurologist even hears that this is a symptom of MS, as it seems less common than other symptoms.
In addition, there was a positive relationship between the degree of taste loss and the number and size of MS lesions in certain parts of the brain, such as the frontal and temporal lobes.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can Multiple Sclerosis Cause Facial Numbness?
Yes, multiple sclerosis can cause facial numbness. For many people, numbness or tingling is a common symptom of multiple sclerosis. If facial numbness makes eating, chewing, talking, or other daily activities difficult, it is best to contact a healthcare provider.
What is Tongue Paresthesia?
Tongue paresthesia is a tingling, numbness, or itchy tongue sensation, but paresthesia can affect any part of the body. Chronic paresthesias can be a symptom of multiple sclerosis and stroke. Most people experience this sensation temporarily only when the nerves are stressed, such as falling asleep on the arm.
Why does my tongue go numb after eating?
There are several possible reasons why your tongue tingles after eating. If tongue tingling occurs during or shortly after eating, it may just be a food allergy. You can determine this by jotting down the types of foods that are commonly associated with tingling.
Vitamin B12 deficiency, infections, and Raynaud’s syndrome can also cause numbness and tingling. A healthcare provider can help you figure out what’s causing the problem.