Mouth Numbness as a Symptom of Multiple Sclerosis

An unpleasant symptom, but one that is usually short-lived

Mouth Numbness Can Be An Unpleasant Symptom of MS
Mouth Numbness Can Be An Unpleasant Symptom of MS. Martin Novak/Getty Images

While many people with MS experience numbness and tingling at some point, you may or may not have heard of or experienced numbness and tingling of the mouth—a particularly unpleasant sensation.

In multiple sclerosis, mouth numbness, like other sensory disturbances, is associated with a damaged or destroyed myelin, the fatty sheath that insulates nerve fibers. It generally occurs from a lesion in the brainstem and may affect the face as well.

Like other MS symptoms, a doctor can diagnose new numbness using an MRI. One study suggests also using trigeminal somatosensory evoked potentials as a diagnostic tool.

What Mouth Numbness Feels Like

  • Some people describe mouth numbness as being compared to getting a cavity filled (when your gum is anesthetized).
  • Others describe a "swollen" or "burning" sensation on their tongue or elsewhere inside their mouth.
  • Due to the numbness, some people may begin chewing and holding food on the unaffected (or less affected) side of their mouths. Others may lose their appetite due to the unpleasant experience of eating—it's especially important to talk to your doctor if this is the case.

Treatment for Mouth Numbness

There is no specific medication to treat mouth numbness. If it is severe though, your doctor may prescribe you a steroid to ease your symptoms. The good news is that MS-related numbness is generally transient, so it should remit.

One thing to note is that you should be very careful when chewing when you are experiencing numbness in your mouth. Find food that is soft and that does not present a choking hazard if it is not fully chewed, especially if you have difficulty swallowing (another symptom of MS).

In addition, chew slowly so you do not accidentally bite the inside of your mouth. You also want to be careful about drinking hot liquids, as they may inadvertently burn your tongue or the inside of your mouth.

Other Mouth Symptoms in MS

Besides numbness, there are other mouth-related symptoms seen in MS.

Taste Deficits

Taste disturbances are common in MS, although it may range in severity from subtle to more severe. In one study in the Journal of Neurology, investigators administered a taste test to 73 people with MS and 73 matched controls. The test measured sweet (sucrose), sour (citric acid), bitter (caffeine) and salty (salt) taste perception on the top and bottom of the tongue.

Results revealed that the people with MS had significantly lower taste identification scores, as compared to the controls (with the biggest deficit being that for salt).

Moreover, a positive correlation was found between the degree of the taste deficit and the number and size of MS lesions in certain parts of the brain (like the frontal and temporal lobe of the brain).

Trigeminal Neuralgia

Trigeminal neuralgia is an exquisitely painful condition of the face. In MS, it results from damage to the trigeminal nerve (a nerve in your face that transmits sensory signals to your brain and also helps control some of the muscles involved in chewing).

Episodes of trigeminal neuralgia are short-lived (usually lasting seconds) and cause stabbing, electric shock-like attacks of pain, commonly in the jaw, teeth, and gums. It can usually be treated with the antiseizure medication Tegretol (carbamazepine) or Trileptal (oxcarbazepine).

A Word From Verywell

If you have MS and are experiencing isolated mouth numbness (or other mouth-related symptoms), you can at least include MS as one of the possible causes. Consider yourself lucky, too, if your neurologist has even heard of this as a symptom of MS, as it appears to be less commonly reported than other symptoms

It's a good idea to get it checked out though because it may not be your MS. There are a number of other potential causes like an allergy, or more serious causes like a tumor, herpes zoster, or trauma. Be proactive and get it evaluated.

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