Every now and then we might feel the tip of our tongue a bit numb, experience a bothersome tingling sensation or even a sort of electric shock type of feeling. At first, nobody even pays attention to these symptoms, until several days pass and we notice they don’t go away. Tingling of the tongue is a form of paresthesia, along with burning, pricking, stinging, tickling and needles and pins sensation. It’s basically an alteration of our sensitivity, or an abnormal sensation.
Our tongue is a highly sensitive organ as it is, rich in blood vessels and nerve endings so any tingling tongue sensation, whether it’s actual tingling or numbness or a sort of electric shock, hints at a problem that most likely has to do with the sensory receptors of the tongue. There are multiple causes behind tingling tongue and range from medicine side effects, vitamin and mineral deficiencies or anesthesia side effects to serious conditions that require a careful and ample medical evaluation for correct diagnosis.
Tingling of the tongue is most likely due to nerve damage at the level of the sensory receptors of the tongue, but can also involve other parts of the nervous system. The sensory receptors of the tongue that may be subjected to damage and generate abnormal sensations include:
1) Thermoreceptors. They are nerve endings that detect hot and cold temperatures or changes in temperature.
2) Mechanoreceptors. These receptors perceive mechanical pressure.
3) Nociceptors. These sensory nerve endings generate pain in response to specific stimuli.
4) Taste receptors. As their name suggests, they help us perceive taste.
For the most part, people experience a tingling sensation in the tongue. However, some describe feeling numbness, while others a sort of numbing electric shock that deprives their tongue of the ability to feel. Both numbness and shock sensations may be a result of nerve compression and nerve damage or problems with the sensory centers of the brain where information from nervous impulses is decoded and reinterpreted.
What causes tingling of the tongue?
Some of the most common causes for tingling tongue include:
1) Medicines. The accidental ingestion of topical anesthetics, caustic substances (highly dangerous) as well as several prescription medicines can lead to tingling tongue. Although the tingling is usually transient, the circumstances leading to it may require the attention of a medical professional. As such, your doctor is the only one properly equipped to correctly diagnose and treat tingling of the tongue attributed to any type and form of medication.
2) Toxins. Both natural and artificial toxic substances we may ingest can cause a bizarre feeling of numbness or tingling of the tongue. Heavy metal intoxication as a result of fish consumption can result in numbness or tingling of the tongue or other parts of the body. Some marine life forms contain natural toxins that can induce paresthesia. The possibilities are endless.
3) Local anesthesia. Dental procedures are almost always done with anesthesia, whether there are simple tooth extractions, root canal work or other more complex procedures that require surgery. Anesthesia may cause temporary, short or long-term, or permanent nerve damage that may present itself as tingling or numbness sensations of the tongue or other parts of the oral cavity. It might be best to undergo an allergy test prior to having anesthesia because many people are allergic to conventional anesthetics and thus risk suffering an anaphylactic shock which is life-threatening and requires immediate medical attention.
4) Injury and trauma. Any form of injury and trauma to the tongue can result in permanent damage to the sensory receptors. Blows to the face, accidents such as biting one’s tongue or tongue piercings all hold a certain risk of sensory damage which may take the form of tingling, numbness and transient pain.
5) Disease and infections. Tongue piercings and accidental bites can become infected without good oral hygiene and lead to sensitivity problems. Glossitis causes swelling and pain of the tongue and can alter its sensory receptors. Viral infections, particularly Herpes simplex infections, can produce significant physical discomfort through painful blisters and cold sores and tongue inflammation, potentially resulting in numbness. Shingles, which is caused by a varicella zoster virus, a virus that also causes chickenpox, can produce nerve damage as well, causing either hypersensitivity or paresthesia in the form of tingling, numbness or pins and needles sensations.
6) Nutrient deficiencies. It has been established that certain vitamins and minerals have a major impact on oral health, particularly B vitamins, iron and zinc. Vitamin B12 and iron are involved in red blood cell production and proper oxygenation of tissues, organs and muscles, tongue included. Zinc is great for immunity, helping prevent and ease infections, including those that may cause nerve damage.
But considering that tongue tingling and numbness have to do with nerve endings and sensory perception, calcium, sodium, potassium and magnesium are also needed to help promote nerve health and ensure proper communication of electrical impulses to nerve endings and muscles. So making sure we get enough of all of these essential nutrients is important. Nutrient deficiencies that are left to progress can produce the most bizarre of symptoms and encourage disease in all of its forms.
Signs and symptoms
Whatever the cause may be, it is vital that you communicate all symptoms and concerns to your doctor and have him or her assess your health. Because even something as innocent as tongue tingling or numbness can have serious underlying causes:
3) Burning mouth syndrome.
4) Cervical back pain (neck pain).
6) Facial paralysis.
7) Multiple sclerosis.
8) Stroke and transient ischemic attack (a sort of warning stroke that usually causes no permanent nerve or brain damage).
9) Brain tumors.
10) Allergic reactions.
A recurring or reoccurring tingling tongue sensation is best assessed by a medical professional to rule out more serious underlying disorders and establish its cause. Only based on our doctor’s findings can we tackle the issue efficiently and opt for the best treatment for us. Because you don’t actually treat a tingling tongue. You treat the medical condition causing it. Prevention is just as important when it comes to all aspects of our health, so making sure we have all the essential nutrients our body needs is crucial.