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 (paresthesia) 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.

Reports of People with MS With Mouth Numbness or Taste Disturbance

Over the years, a few people have communicated with me about their experience with mouth numbness and/or change in taste sensations:

  • "I have been having mouth numbness off and on for the last couple of months. It sometimes feels like I ate something a little too hot even though I haven’t. I also have a definite preference of which side of my mouth I hold food and beverages on for the full taste effect. I’m wondering if eventually I won’t be able to taste."
  • "Mouth numbness is horrid. About ten years ago I couldn’t feel anything at all on the right side of my mouth and my tongue “felt” swollen. I lived on baked potatoes, cabbage, tinned tuna and orange juice for a couple of months because eating was such an awful experience. That’s not a diet I’d recommend long term!"
  • "I’ve found that eating dark green leafy vegetables every single day, without fail, helps to reduce my symptoms [of mouth numbness]. Missing a day will set my symptoms back by a week, so I make sure I eat the equivalent of two large leaves of lightly cooked spring greens daily—even if it means I’m eating them at midnight. (I cut the stalks out because supposedly they contain a chemical that can make you sleepy, which might not go too well with fatigue.)"
  • "I was diagnosed with MS twenty-two years ago. Fifteen years ago I had a 24-hour period when everything tasted bitter. My boss had invited us out for a steak dinner that night and I couldn’t eat it (which is not typical for me). In addition, I do have tremors of my tongue and lower lip at times."
  • "I was diagnosed with MS twenty-three years ago. I lost my sense of taste for a few days in 1991, everything tasted horrible at that time."
  • "It really helps to know that someone else has experienced some of these symptoms in the mouth—docs just look at me like I am daft when I tell them about the fact that my mouth and tongue “burns.” This happens especially late in the day and/or when I am exhausted or hot. For the past 2 years, I usually carry a cup of ice and eat lots of ice cream. But again, it is really hard to “whine” about this very real and annoying symptom to people, because it can’t be seen and just seems well, weird."

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.

A Word From Verywell

If you have MS and are experiencing isolated mouth numbness or things taste different, you can at least include MS as one of the possible causes. Consider yourself lucky 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 for mouth numbness like an allergy, or more serious causes like a tumor, herpes zoster, or trauma. Be proactive and get it checked out.

Sources:

Gonzalez JA, Gay-Escoda C. Sensory disturbances of buccal and lingual nerve by muscle compression: A case report and review of the literature. J Clin Exp Dent. 2016 Feb;8(1):e93-e96.

Koutsis G, Kokotis P, Papagianni AE, Evangelopoulos ME, Kilidireas C, Karandreas N. A neurophysiological study of facial numbness in multiple sclerosis: Integration with clinical data and imaging findings. Mult Scler Relat Disord. 2016 Sep;9:140-6.

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