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Ask the Dentist: If part of your mouth feels numb you need to get it checked out

A pins and needles feeling can indicate an abscess, a cyst or sometimes something more serious, writes Lucy Stock, dentist at Gentle Dental Care in Belfast

The most common cause of jaw numbness is a tooth abscess
Lucy Stock

IF PART of your mouth suddenly goes numb you are right to be concerned. Paraesthesia is when you experience a pins and needles feeling, like when you sit on your leg improperly and it takes a while to wake up.

In the mouth this can be due to something pressing on a nerve. Most of the time there's an innocent reason; however, sometimes it's a sign that all well is not well.

The most common cause of jaw numbness is a tooth abscess. If an abscess is left to fester it can ramp up to a considerable size (some are as large as a grape) and start compressing the large nerves that run through the jaws. Typically, a patient would come in complaining of numbness in their jaw and the X-ray would show a large black halo around the tip of a decayed root.

Usually on removal of the offending tooth or root canal therapy to treat the abscess, the infection would slowly shrink, allowing the nerve to rebound to its original size and normal feeling would return to the face.

Even a blow to the face, which causes the lips or cheeks to swell up, can give a feeling of numbness. As the swelling subsides feeling in the skin will return.

If you haven't had an injury to the face but experience sudden numbness in your jaw then there are several non-cancerous conditions that may be the culprit including a stroke, Bells palsy, multiple sclerosis and even migraine headaches.

There are also numerous types of cysts that can grow in the jaws and press on nerves. Many are benign and either removed surgically or opened to allow them to drain away.

In rare instances numbness is a symptom of a cancer of the tongue, throat or jaw or secondaries from breast cancers or lymphomas that have spread to the jaw. These can be picked up on large dental X-rays and treated by consultants in the dental hospital.

The bottom line is if in doubt about a part of mouth feeling numb, ask your dentist to check it out and put your mind at rest.

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