April 2nd, 2009
February 19th started like any other day, except that I was going to the dentist to get two cavities filled. While there, I was given a shot of novocaine (or something like that) in my left cheek. While the dentist was administering the shot, I sensed what felt like electricity jolting my tongue, and my mouth became numb very fast.
The dentist thought that a little odd, but went ahead and filled my cavities, I paid and left. By bedtime, when my numbness should have gone away, my tongue was still numb. The next morning it was still numb.
What was going on?
It turned out I had received a lingual nerve injury during the novocaine shot. Apparently the needle can sometimes injure the nerves. Sometimes the novocaine can be injected right into the nerve, and scar it. For about 5% of people, the damage is permanent.
However, symptoms can be much worse than what I have experienced. For some people the numbness extends to the cheek and lips, making it very hard to keep food in one’s mouth while eating. For that I am thankful it only affects my tongue. And even then it hasn’t really affected my speech.
Even today, my tongue is still numb, although I have seen some improvement in the last week or two. I can now feel sensation on my tongue, and the front third is more normal. Also, the constant tingling has lessened a bit so that I don’t notice it as much.
So why did this happen? It might have been the type of novocaine that was used. I have yet to ask my dentist what type of novocaine he used, but apparently there is a controversy regarding Articaine (Septocaine) AND Prilocaine (Citanest). Some think these anesthetics cause nerve damage 15x to 20x more often.
Check out this website which is dedicated to lingual nerve injuries.
And here’s my practical advice: If you are at all concerned about getting this injury yourself, ask your dentist to use plain old lidocaine, because it can’t hurt to avoid the others until the controversy is settled. Also, signal your dentist to stop injecting if you experience the “jolts” in your tongue during the process.
(But don’t try to jerk away—as the motion could damage things more. The dentist needs to withdraw the needle safely.)
So what now? What do I do if the sensation and taste on the left side of my tongue never comes fully back? After 1-1/2 months, I have to face that as a real possibility.
But I have to realize something … as I age, my tongue will naturally lose its ability to taste food. I still remember my father, who died in 1991, pouring salt on his food complaining that the restaurants made the food so bland now-days. Well, it wasn’t the restaurant, it was my father getting old.
And this exact thing happened the other week. I was salting the popcorn because my son puts too much on. Afterward, he told me I had put on the amount that he likes. And yes, it was my tongue. I couldn’t taste the salt as much!
So this “losing of taste” would have happened anyway as I age. It just may have happened to half my tongue a little sooner.
And what does that mean? That means I can’t taste the things of this world as well. When that happens, and it will happen to all of us, we need to turn to God, and begin to taste—maybe for the first time—the sweetness of heaven. Psalm 34:8 says:
Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him.
And Isaiah 55 puts it this way:
Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat!
Come buy wine and milk without money and without cost.
Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare.
So pray that my tongue may be healed, but regardless, pray that God would use this in my life to awaken a deeper desire for pure spiritual milk, finding my taste and enjoyment in the Lord.
May you be healed, as it pleases God, and may we all be healed of our lasting affection for a fading world. And we shall be.
Thanks for your prayers. I've been encouraged by the last week's improvement, although it has a good way to go.
I like the verse you refer to about our life being hidden with Christ in God. That's really true ... there is nothing "alive" about us that has not been claimed by Him. And no one can snatch it from his hand. He stands at the end of the ages waiting for us with eternal pleasures at his right hand.
How we, to quote C.S. Lewis a bit, "play in mud puddles" instead of looking to him with our deep longings.
And by the way, my dentist is no hack---he is very professional and very careful. There's just limited space to inject the novocaine into, and there's always a chance of this happening.