B12 deficiency symptoms: The changes in mouth that could signal the ‘sneaky’ condition

Dr Dawn Harper on signs of vitamin B12 and vitamin D deficiency

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Characterised as “sneaky”, vitamin B12 deficiency can have harmful effects on your body. What’s worse, around six percent of people below the age of 60 are affected by this deficiency. And this statistic rises even further with age, climbing to 20 percent.

According to the NHS, vitamin B12 deficiency can cause a wide range of symptoms.

Monika Wassermann, Medical Director at Rodin Olio Lusso, explains the lack of this nutrient can present as glossitis or mouth ulcers.


Wassermann said: “Glossitis is a common B12 deficiency symptom that occurs in the mouth.

“[It] is a medical term for the inflamed tongue and mouth, which are usually red and painful.”

Described also as a “sore and red” tongue, this sign can make the surface of your tongue appear smooth yet swollen and inflamed.

Another symptom of B12 deficiency that can target your mouth are ulcers.

Mouth Ulcers

Wassermann said: “Mouth ulcers are painful sores that mostly form on your inner lips, the roof of the mouth, throat, gums, and tongue. 

“Although they are harmless, mouth ulcers cause discomfort and affect your eating.”

Fortunately, there’s plenty you can do if you struggle with these signs.

The expert recommended: 

  • Avoiding irritants (alcohol, tobacco, spicy, acidic, or salty food)
  • Eating well-balanced meals
  • Practising oral hygiene (brushing your teeth and flossing regularly)
  • Avoiding toothpaste with sodium lauryl sulphate
  • Eating soft meals
  • Substituting your normal toothbrush with a soft-bristled one.

However, as the underlying problem causing these symptoms can be a vitamin B12 deficiency, you will also have to address this primary issue.

How to treat a vitamin B12 deficiency?

Depending on what’s causing the condition in the first place, your doctor will choose a suitable course of action.

The majority of people can benefit from injections or tablets that replace the missing vitamin.

There are also dietary sources of vitamin B12 including:

  • Meat
  • Salmon and cod
  • Milk and other dairy products
  • Eggs.

As vitamin B12 can be only obtained from animal-derived products, people who follow plant-based diets might be more prone to this condition.

Are there any other vitamin B12 deficiency symptoms?

According to the NHS, other warning signs of this deficiency are:

  • Extreme tiredness
  • Lack of energy
  • Pins and needles (paraesthesia)
  • Muscle weakness
  • Disturbed vision
  • Psychological problems (depression and confusion)
  • Problems with memory, understanding and judgement.

They recommend seeing a GP if you suspect being deficient in vitamin B12.

The NHS adds: “It’s important for vitamin B12 or folate deficiency anaemia to be diagnosed and treated as soon as possible.”

While many symptoms can improve with treatment, certain problems induced by this deficiency can be irreversible.

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