The Tongue :
The tongue is a fleshy sensitive organ in the mouth covered with soft mucosa. Thousands of taste buds are present in the tongue. The main function of the tongue is to help in chewing/swallowing food and in aiding speech. Several muscles present in the tongue are responsible for swallowing and talking. The tongue has another distinctive function namely “taste”. Nerve cells present in the tongue are connected to the brain to sense the kind of food present in the mouth and its taste.
Paresthesia is a peculiar sensation of numbness and tingling feeling. This kind of abnormal feeling can occur in hands, legs and in any part of the body. This is described as “pins and needles” and prickling sensation. Sensations of pressure and temperature are at its peak in the tongue when compared with skin. If the tingling sensation affects the sense of taste it is described as dysgeusia. In case the peculiar sensation causes burning pain or numbness feeling or tingling sensation it is known as paresthesia. Since nerves are responsible for carrying any sensation to the brain the nerve receptors are affected largely due to paresthesia. Certain parts of the brain are vital in processing the signals received from the tongue. The taste receptors generate electrical impulse when exposed to certain stimuli which would travel through the path of lingual nerve reaching specific parts of the brain for decoding.
That is how one can feel any sense of taste like sweetness, bitterness or sourness. When these taste receptors are subjected to intense pressure due to stimuli it can generate high degree of electrical impulses enough to collapse the taste receptors which gives the feeling of tingling or burning sensation. Any problem with the nerve receptors gives wrong signal to the brain. Sometimes nerve receptors get stimulated even without any stimulus giving a sense of heat, cold or pressure. Tingling or prickling feeling can be felt due to problems in the nerve receptors. Nerve might have got damaged or inflamed or even compressed causing such sensations. Wrong signals are sent to the brain which perceives it as tingling feeling or numbness depending on the intensity of electrical impulse generated. Parestheisa in the tongue can be described as tingling sensation or prickling feeling. For some people it triggers such feeling suddenly even without any specific stimulus. Some people may not feel anything giving a numb feeling and they will not be able to sense specific tastes due to damaged taste receptors.
Causes Of Tongue Numbnes and Tingling :
- Substance Abuse and Medications :
Overuse of certain toxic substances like heroine and similar drugs can largely affect the sensations of nerve receptors of the tongue. Certain kinds of alcohol and narcotics can also produce same reaction. Taking certain kinds of medications and topical anesthetics can produce abnormal sensations on the tongue. Some of them can affect the nerve receptors temporarily and others can damage them permanently causing tingling or numbness feeling on the tongue. Lastly side effect of certain strong prescription drugs can affect the nerve receptors of the tongue.
- Food Poisoning and Toxic Effect :
Paresthesia of the tongue can occur due to ingestion of various toxic substances. Artificial toxins and certain kinds of natural toxins like ciguatera toxin (found in specific kinds of fishes) can certainly affect the tongue. Fishes like sea bass, eel, and barcuda may contain toxic materials which can affect the nerve receptors of the tongue. Some people may develop tingling sensation on the tongue after eating decayed fishes or undercooked fishes. Fugu fishes are known to contain tetrodotoxin which is deadly and lethal. In spite of affecting the tongue it may also get deposited in various parts of the body causing complications. Certain metals can also cause tingling and prickling sensation on the tongue.
- Dental Procedure :
Topical anesthesia applied before dental procedures can produce tingling sensation on the tongue. In most of the cases the issue is only temporary and resolves to normalcy after the tissue heals properly. But in some people nerve damage can occur during the dental surgery and procedures like root canal and dental implants causing permanent tingling sensation on the tongue.
- Injury :
Sudden injury or trauma can affect the tongue largely causing inflammation. Tongue piercing and eating very hot or spicy food items and drinking certain beverages can produce tingling sensation on the tongue. Taking very cold items can also produce similar effect. Exposure to radiation therapy and other kinds of therapy during mouth cancer can affect the tongue. Nerve receptors and small tissues of the tongue may get affected during such treatments. Temporary numbness can occur while chewing tobacco or betel nuts.
- Infections :
Tongue infections caused by virus and other microorganisms can cause paresthesia. Herpes simplex virus or chicken pox virus or herpes zoster can cause infection on the tongue. Candida or oral thrush is another kind of infection affecting the oral cavity including tongue.
- Vitamin Deficiency :
Deficiency of certain minerals like calcium or sodium or potassium can produce tingling sensation on the tongue. Deficiency of vitamin B12 can cause such feeling which gets resolved after taking sufficient vitamins. Disorders and diseases like multiple sclerosis, hypothyroidism, and stroke, brain tumor, burning mouth syndrome, facial palsy and migraine can cause numbness on the tongue. Burning mouth syndrome can cause sudden burning sensation of the lips, gum and tongue now and then causing severe pain.
Symptoms Of Tongue Tingling (Numbness ) :
Paresthesia of the tongue can cause symptoms including burning pain or tingling sensation or numbness for some time. If you have such signs continuously you need to seek medical care. If there are other symptoms like breathing difficulty, severe headache, facial weakness, change in the level of consciousness, neck pain and numbness on one side of the body you need to seek immediate medical help.
Treatment for tingling sensation of the tongue can be given after diagnosing the cause. Avoid eating special kind of fishes and decayed fishes. If you are allergic to certain food items it is better to avoid them permanently. Choose the right doctor for dental procedures. Restrict the intake of alcohol since it can damage the nerve receptors gradually. Ask about the side effects of medications with your doctor.