The lingual nerve is a branch of the mandibular division of the trigeminal nerve, which is the largest cranial nerve. The lingual nerve innervates the tongue and provides sensation to the anterior two-thirds of the tongue, the floor of the mouth, and the lower lip. The lingual nerve also provides taste sensation to the anterior two-thirds of the tongue.

In some dental procedures, such as tooth extractions and dental implant procedures, the lingual nerve can be damaged, leading to changes in sensation, which might include numbness, tingling, or pain in the tongue, lower lip, or floor of the mouth.

Where is the Lingual Nerve Located?

Diagram of the lingual nerveThe lingual nerve is located in the oral cavity, specifically on the tongue side of the lower jaw, just below the lingual periosteum, which is a thin layer of tissue that covers the jawbone. The lingual nerve runs along the inner aspect of the jawbone, close to the roots of the lower teeth, and it provides sensation to the tongue and to the floor of the mouth.

How Can the Lingual Nerve Be Damaged During a Dental Procedure?

The lingual nerve can be damaged during a variety of dental procedures, including tooth extractions, implant placement, and endodontic treatment (root canal), and injections of local anesthetic. In some cases, the lingual nerve can be directly damaged during the procedure. Other times, the lingual nerve can be damaged by swelling or inflammation of surrounding tissues and structures, which might occur after the procedure.

Obviously, the risk of lingual nerve damage increases with procedures that are closer to the nerve's location. Thus, to minimize the risk of lingual nerve damage, dentists should perform nerve tests, take cone beam or CBCT images, or otherwise engage in thorough pre-operative planning to locate structures that may be at risk before beginning a dental procedure.

How Do I know if I Have Lingual Nerve Damage?

If you suspect that you have lingual nerve damage as a result of a dental procedure, you may experience some of the following symptoms:

  1. Tongue numbness or tingling;
  2. Pain or discomfort in the tongue or lower jaw;
  3. Loss of taste or changes in taste sensations;
  4. Difficulty speaking or swallowing;
  5. Drooling or excessive saliva.

If you experience any of these symptoms after a dental procedure, it is important to contact your dentist or oral surgeon right away. The proper medical professional can diagnose the cause of your symptoms and provide appropriate treatment, if needed.

In some cases, lingual nerve damage can be temporary, but in other cases it may be permanent. The chances that nerve damage will be permanent greatly increases if the damage is left untreated for several months. Thus, it is critical to get an accurate diagnosis as soon as possible so that appropriate treatment can be initiated.