Numb Lips, Mouth or Tongue: 10 Causes & What to Do

Updated in August 2022

There are many factors that contribute to numbness or tingling in the lips, tongue or mouth. Usually, it is not of clinical concern, and occurs as a result of stress, anxiety or a migraine. In these cases, the numbness resolves on its own without any intervention. 

Nonetheless, it is important to monitor for other symptoms that could indicate another condition, like a vitamin or mineral deficiency, or a neurological disease like a stroke. 

If your feel numb lips, mouth or tongue frequently or if it occurs with other symptoms, you should see a doctor for consult. The doctor will evaluate your symptoms to determine an underlying cause, and start treatment as necessary. 

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The main causes of numb lips, mouth or tongue include: 

1. Food allergy

A food allergy can cause the sensation of tingling, numbness or swelling in the mouth, tongue or lips. It can also cause canker sores or discomfort in the throat. Some people may also notice skin symptoms, like itchiness and redness, or gastrointestinal discomfort with abdominal pain, excess gas, vomiting, diarrhea or constipation. 

In serious cases of food allergies, some people experience difficulty breathing, which can be life-threatening. 

What to do: Treatment of a food allergy should be initiated as soon as possible. The type of treatment provided will depend on the severity of the symptoms. Generally speaking, acute cases are treated with anti-histamines (like ebastine, loratadine or cetirizine), corticosteroids (like prednisolone or deflazacort), and bronchodilators. In severe cases, anaphylactic shock may occur. This condition requires a subcutaneous adrenaline injection (with an Epi-Pen for example).  

In addition, it is very important to identify which foods triggered the allergy. This can be done by monitoring for signs and symptoms after consuming specific foods or through allergy testing. These foods should be removed from the diet completely. It is important to be wary of eating foods that are not prepared by you. 

2. Hypocalcemia

Hypocalcemia is characterized by decreased levels of calcium in the blood. Most times, it doesn’t cause any symptoms, however if levels are severely low, it can cause symptoms like muscle spasms, confusion, and numbness in the mouth and hands.

Calcium deficiency can be caused by vitamin D deficiency, hypoparathyroidism, decreased ingestion or malabsorption of calcium, kindey disease, alcoholism and some medication. 

What to do: Treatment for hypocalcemia depend on the cause, severity and presenting symptoms. Severe hypocalcemia that causes symptoms should be treated in the hospital with calcium supplementation (calcium gluoconate or calcium chlorate) until symptoms have improved. Mild cases can be treated with increasing dietary intake of calcium and with oral supplements.

The doctor should investigate what triggered this condition and look for a solution. It may require supplementation with magnesium or vitamin D, or treatment of kidney disease or parathyroid disease. 

3. B-complex vitamin deficiency 

Symptoms that are frequently associated with a B-complex vitamin deficiency include fatigue, irritability, inflammation, tingling in the mouth or tongue, and headache. This condition can be caused by decreased intake of these vitamins in the diet, or it can be a result of a medication impeding their absorption into the system. 

What to do: Treatment for a B-complex vitamin deficiency involves increasing intake through diet and supplements. Severe deficiencies may require treatment with prescription medication. Read more about how vitamin B12 deficiency is treated.  

4. Medication

Some medications that contain anesthetics, like mouth gargles, throat lozenges, dental sprays, or anesthesia injected by the dentist, can cause general numbness and tingling in the mouth and tongue. 

Depending on the type of medication used, these symptoms can last for minutes to hours. They are not a cause for concern, as the doctor will usually advise you of this side-effect prior to administration. 

What to do: If these products or medications cause immense discomfort, you should discontinue use and substitute it dor another that does not contain anesthetics. Generally, mouth numbness caused by anesthetics is temporary and resolves on its own.

5. Migraines

Migraines usually cause a very intense headache, although some people additionally feel tingling in the arms, lips and tongue, as well as light sensitivity, nausea and vomiting. These symptoms can occur before feeling the headache and can last during the entire flare-up. Learn more about migraine symptoms and how they can present in different people. 

What to do: Migraine treatment will vary depending on the symptoms. Moderate to severe migraines are treated by a neurologist, who can prescribe medications like anti-inflammatories, triptans, or ergotamine. 

6. Stress and anxiety

Some people who suffer from severe stress or anxiety attacks may notice mild tingling in the tongue, which may cause even more anxiety and panic. Other symptoms include constant fear, stomach ache, dizziness, insomnia, dry mouth and muscular tension. Explore the other symptoms of an anxiety attack and how it can be treated. 

What to do: People who suffer from constant stress or anxiety should see a doctor or psychologist to discuss the best treatment approach. It may involve the use of therapy, natural remedies or, in more severe cases, anxiolytic medication.  Check out these soothing tea recipes for anxiety that you can use as a complement to your medical treatment. 

7. Stroke

In some cases, the tongue can become numb or tingling as a result of a cerebral vascular accident (CVA), or a stroke. In this cases, other symptoms will also include a severe headache, weakness on one side of the body, difficulty lifting an arm or standing, loss of sensitivity, vision changes, asymmetric face, gargled speech, confusion, nausea or vomiting. These symptoms are signs of decreased blood flow to the brain. 

What to do: If you suspect you are having a stroke, call for an ambulance or proceed immediately to the emergency room.

8. Hypoglycemia

Hypoglycemia is characterized by low levels of sugar in the blood. It can cause numbness in the tongue and mouth, tremors, weakness, blurry vision and pallor. 

What to do: If you have low blood sugar, you should consume at least 15g of liquid carbohydrates, like a tablespoon of honey. You should then measure your sugar levels 15 minutes after consuming the carbohydrate. If your blood sugar remains under 4.0 mmol/L, you should proceed to the closes emergency room. 

9. Burn

A numb tongue or mouth can also be a result of eating very hot food or drinking a hot beverage, like soup or coffee. It can damage the inner lining of the mouth, causing symptoms like loss of sensitivity, redness, pain and burning. These symptoms can last for hours to days, depending on the severity of the burn. 

What to do: One way to relieve symptoms related to a burn is to eat something that is cold, like an ice cream, to relieve the affected areas. Sucking on a cough lozenge or chewing mint gum can also help to relieve any burning or numbness on the tongue. If the burn is severe or if you notice blood, you should see a doctor for evaluation and treatment as necessary. 

10. Facial paralysis

Facial paralysis, or Bell’s palsy, can occur when a facial nerve becomes inflamed. It causes a loss of control of the muscles on one side of the face, and may produce symptoms like a crooked mouth, difficulty making facial expressions, and mild numbness on the affected side, which can include the tongue. Read more about the symptoms of Bell’s palsy and how it is treated.. 

What to do: To improve paralysis and facial movement, exercises like blowing up a balloon, opening your mouth wide and making different faces are recommended. Prescription medication may also be necessary, as well as surgery in more serious cases.