Your face contains a complex web of nerves. Any sort of damage to one of these nerves can potentially cause numbness in your chin. Depending on which nerve is affected, you may only feel numbness on the right or left side.
In additional to general chin numbness, there’s also a rare condition called numb chin syndrome (NCS). This condition affects the mental nerve, a small sensory nerve that supplies feeling to your chin and lower lip. It typically only affects one side of your chin. NCS can be a serious condition because it’s often associated with certain types of cancer.
Keep reading to learn more about chin numbness and when it might indicate a serious illness that needs treatment.
Numb chin syndrome
Numb chin syndrome (NCS) is a neurological condition that causes numbness in the mental nerve distribution, also known as mental neuropathy. You might feel numbness or a pins and needles sensation in your chin, lips, or gums. Some cases of NCS are related to the teeth, but many have nothing to do with the teeth or dental procedures.
In adults, NCS is often associated with primary breast cancer or lymphoma that’s spread to the jaw. Tumors near your jaw invade or put pressure on the mental nerve, causing neuropathy. It can also be caused by a cancer tumor at the base of the skull.
A 2010 article about NCS notes that it’s also considered a potential symptom of a related:
NCS may also be a symptom of multiple sclerosis (MS).
If you have unexplained chin numbness, your doctor will want to test you for cancer. If you’ve already been diagnosed with a cancer confirmed elsewhere in your body, your doctor may want to do some additional testing to see if it has spread.
The types of testing will likely involve the use of different imaging techniques and lab testing, including:
- CT scans. A stronger X-ray machine connected to a computer will take detailed pictures of your jaw and possibly other parts of your body. You may receive a contrast material intravenously or by another route to make the pictures clearer.
- MRI scans. A large machine with a powerful magnet will take pictures of parts of your body and send them to a computer.
- Nuclear scans. For this test, you receive a small intravenous injection of radioactive material (a tracer), which flows through your bloodstream and collects in certain bones and organs. A scanner measures the radioactivity to create pictures on the computer.
- Blood tests. High or low levels of certain substances in your blood may indicate cancer.
While numbness in your chin is sometimes caused by NCS, there are several other potential causes that are far less serious.
If you’ve recently undergone a dental procedure, such as a tooth extraction or oral surgery, you may experience numbness in your chin.
Numbness, both temporary and permanent, is a known complication of wisdom teeth removal. Reports indicate that between 1.3 and 4.4 percent of people experience temporary numbness after getting their wisdom teeth removed.
Nerve damage is a rare complication of general and surgical dentistry, but it does happen. Root canals, dental materials, infection, and anesthetic injections are all possible causes.
Other symptoms of nerve damage may include sensations of:
A gum abscess is a pocket of pus that builds up when you have an infection in your gums, next to the root of a tooth. It’s caused by a localized overgrowth of infection, typically bacterial. When this infectious pocket of pus grows, it can put pressure on your mental nerve and cause numbness in your chin.
Other symptoms of a gum abscess include:
- severe throbbing pain
- pain while chewing
- sensitivity to cold and heat
- sudden rush of foul-smelling, foul-tasting fluid when abscess ruptures
A recent injury to your face can also cause chin numbness. Any kind of blow to the face, including falls and punches, can cause swelling around the chin and rest of the jaw. When tissue swells, it can put pressure on the mental nerve in your chin, causing temporary numbness.
Chin numbness can also be a symptom of several noncancerous conditions, including:
Signs to watch for
If you have numbness in your chin that can’t be traced back to a dental procedure or injury, make an appointment with your doctor as soon as possible. It could be a sign of an infection or other medical condition that needs treatment. It could also be an early sign of cancer.
Other common symptoms of certain cancers include:
- changes in the shape or size of your breast or nipple
- a new or growing lump in your breast
- changes in the texture of the skin on your breast
- a new, changing, or discolored mole on your skin
- a new or growing lump anywhere on or under your skin
- hoarseness or cough that won’t go away
- problems with bowel movements (including blood in the stool)
- unexplained weight loss or weight gain
- painful or difficult urination
- abdominal pain
- unexplained night sweats
- difficulty eating
- unusual bleeding or discharge
- extreme weakness or tiredness
- fever and night sweats
The bottom line
Chin numbness can be a result of something as mild as a cavity filling or as serious as cancer. Instead of worrying about what it could mean, it’s best to make an appointment with your doctor. The only way to rule out cancer is to get a thorough exam from your doctor that typically includes labs and imaging scans. Try to keep in mind that NCS can be one of the symptoms — sometimes the first — of certain cancers. If your doctor does find that you have cancer, further testing and subsequent treatment will likely be needed, and your doctor will be able to help guide your care.