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Mouth Diseases

Numb Mouth, Tongue, Lips

08/02/2000

Question:

I have a really strange issue which I mentioned to my PCP and she just looked at me like I had two heads and dismissed it. From time to time - usually if I am hungry or during eating or immediately after eating, the inside of my mouth, tongue and lips will get numb. This numbness lasts anywhere from 5 minutes to 20ish minues. It used to happen once every 5-6 months or so, but it has gotten much more frequent. Now it happens anywhere from once every week or two to a couple of times a week. I don`t know if this is the correct area to ask about this and if it isn`t could you please refer me to the correct section.

Answer:

No, you don`t have two heads. At least not as far as I can tell from this terminal.

The history that you give is intriguing, but I won`t be able to make a firm diagnosis for you, either. The fact that this numbness arises where it does at the times when you are hungry or when you are eating does make some physiologic sense, though.

The nervous system of our bodies has two major branches, or systems. The one that we are most familiar with, the sensory or somatic system, allows us to feel, hear, see, etc. or "sense" our environment as well as to make voluntary movements of our muscles and joints. The other major branch, called the autonomic system, involves involuntary functions (such as breathing, heart beat, gland secretions, etc.)

The area of numbness you describe contains variable numbers of small glands, called minor salivary (spit) glands, that help us digest and swallow our food. At times when we are hungry or eat, a portion of the autonomic system stimulates these glands to produce more saliva. While this normally is an "automatic" process without symptoms, some people will experience a flush or tingling in these areas. Others can develop little fluid-filled bumps on the surface of the skin of the mouth that usually last for only a short time before bursting. These represent tiny pools of spit resulting from spillage out of the gland under the skin, just like a river that escapes its banks after a hard rain. Once you`ve eaten, everything goes back to normal.

I don`t know why this annoying symptom has been increasing in frequency. While it probably does not have serious implications, I would recommend seeking an appointment with an oral and maxillofacial pathologist should the condition be a persistent or even more frequent bother.

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Response by:

John R Kalmar, DMD, PhD John R Kalmar, DMD, PhD
Clinical Professor of Pathology
College of Dentistry
The Ohio State University