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Root Canals

Numbness on the right side of the tongue

08/15/2006

Question:

I recently had a root canal done to tooth # 31. The next day, the right side of my tongue is numb. I called my doctor and the assistant said to wait it out for a few weeks or months. She said it is possible that there was nerve damage. Can you tell me what is the cause of the numbness and can it be a permanent problem? Thanks you.

Answer:

Numbness following a lower dental injection is rather rare, but it does occur on occasion. The numbness could be that the needle used for the injection came very close to the nerve branch that supplies your tongue. This may have caused some inflammation or mild trauma to the outer layer of the nerve.

It is almost impossible for the needle to impale the nerve. There is a protective sheath around the nerve, and the nerve is freely movable in the soft tissue and tends to move away from the needle as it comes close.

Sometimes the numbness is due to the infection of the tooth, where pressure from swelling impinges on the nerve and causes numbness. In your case however, the location is wrong. It is usually lip numbness that occurs.

Finally, some anesthetic agents can cause prolonged or permanent numbness. Again, the odds of this happening are very, very small.

Unfortunately I can't determine the exact cause of your numbness. The numbness should reverse itself slowly over a few weeks, especially if it was due to inflammation or mild trauma around the nerve branch. There is really no treatment for this except possibly steroid medications. If you're concerned, I recommend going back to your dentist for further evaluation of the problem

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Response by:

John M Nusstein, DDS John M Nusstein, DDS
Associate Professor of Endodontics
College of Dentistry
The Ohio State University