What Are Taste Buds?
Taste buds are small, bulbous and sac-like sensory organs responsible for the perception of taste. They are seen as small nodules called papillae or specialized epithelial cells mainly on the upper surface of the tongue. Taste buds are also present on soft palate, upper oesophagus, cheeks and epiglottis.
All taste buds can respond to all types of taste no matter where they are situated. While eating, chemical substances of the food along with saliva and water are detected by taste receptor cells through taste pores. The stimulated receptors then send out impulses through the nerves into the brain. The brain now interprets the taste of the food; i.e., sweet, sour, salty, bitter and umami.
A healthy individual has about 10,000 taste buds and they’re replaced once every 2 weeks or so. However, this number can be reduced because of aging and smoking. Infants have more number of taste buds than adults.
What Are Inflamed Taste Buds?
A healthy tongue is pink and painless covered with numerous taste buds around papillae. Sometimes papillae becomes inflamed, causing pain. When inflamed, taste pores become blocked, so receptor taste cells cannot distinguish the flavour of the food. Thus, no or little impulse is transmitted to your brain, resulting little to no taste for food. The inflammation can be on one side of tongue, in the back of tongue, on the tip of the tongue, on cheek or on some other parts that have taste buds.
Usually, when inflamed, the papillae will appear elongated and enlarged with a rough surface and can be easily bruised. Loss of tasting function, appearance of red or white painful bumps on tongue, and irritation while eating are the main symptoms associated with taste bud inflammation. Sometimes, difficulty in tongue movements due to swelling, changes of the tongue’s colour, and the appearance of white, bright pink, black, or brown patches either all over the tongue or only in certain spots are observed. However, the symptoms can vary depending on the cause of inflammation.
Inflamed Taste Buds Causes :
- Food – Very hot, spicy and salty foods irritate or burn the taste buds.
- Allergens – Allergens may cause mouth and tongue inflammation and irritation. Certain medicines, acidic fruits like lemon or grapefruit., sauces and dental care products may cause irritation and soreness in the mouth.
- Malnutrition – Deficiency of Vitamins B complex and C can cause swollen tongue.
- Oral Diseases – Oral thrush, mouth and tongue ulcers, candidiasis, canker sores, yeast infection and oral cancer may affect multiple taste buds, thus causing inflammation.
- Other Diseases – Acid reflux can cause irritation in taste buds, tongue and mouth. Common cold, strep throat, acute sinusitis and tonsillitis can cause inflammation and malfunction of taste buds. Moreover, autoimmune diseases, like Lupus and Sjögren’s syndrome result in inflammation and swelling of tongue.
- Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STD) – Inflamed taste buds may be a symptom of a few sexually transmitted diseases(STD). Herpes simplex type 1 (HSV1), Syphilis, oral Gonorrhoea and oral HPV (Human Papilloma Virus) cause painful mouth sores that lead to enlarged taste buds. White and yellow plaques on the back of tongue are characteristics of oral Gonorrhoea and oral HPV.
- Other Medical Conditions – The chances for taste bud inflammation is high in laryngectomy, a surgery wherein a part or the entire larynx is removed mainly for treating larynx cancer. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy for cancer patients damage normal fast-dividing cells along with cancer cells. The mucous membranes become fragile post these treatments because these membranes are made of fast-dividing cells. Hormonal imbalances in the body due to stress, depression and anxiety can affect the immune system, causing tongue infections and taste bud inflammation. In some cases, people suffering from stress experience Glossodynia or burning mouth syndrome (BMS) that affects the lubrication of the mouth, thus leaving the tongue dry and rough.
- Toxins – Exposure to toxins, like alcohol, tobacco, insecticides, etc. can cause inflamed taste buds.
- Injury – Any form of injury, such as cutting, biting, rubbing, brushing, scrapping and piercing irritates your taste buds and leave them inflamed. Immunity weakness and Thyroid imbalance during pregnancy can cause inflamed taste buds. The same reason is responsible for taste bud enlargement among toddlers.
Most of the causes for taste bud inflammation are preventable. However, remember the below-mentioned factors :
- Avoid foods that are salty, spicy or too hot
- Stop drinking and smoking
- Give importance to oral hygiene
- Avoid biting, rubbing or scrapping the tongue with any objects or even teeth.
- Keep away from contagious diseases that affect oral health
- Consult a doctor in time of need
Like many diseases, treatment for inflamed taste buds depend on the cause. Treatments suggested will vary for viral infections, STDs, bacterial infections or inflammation due to trauma. In case of nutritional deficiency, Vitamin C and B complex are recommended. Antibiotics, antifungal or antiviral medicines are prescribed for various infections depending on the microbe. Antiseptic mouthwashes are used to promote healing and prevent further infections.
Inflamed Taste Buds Home Remedy :
There are numerous remedies to reduce and soothe inflated taste buds that can be done at home with cheap products. Most of them are organic and easily available too.
- Sea salt, honey and tea-tree oil have antibacterial functions. Gargling with warm saline water or tea-tree oil helps decrease inflammation.
- Honey can be applied directly to the affected area or can be gargled mixing with warm water for reducing tenderness.
- Garlic promotes immunity while ginger and pepper have anti-inflammatory properties. So, increasing the intake of these foods would be beneficial.
- Consume turmeric and curd to speed up the healing process. Probiotic yogurt gives relief from irritated taste receptors.
- Applying ice moderately on the tendered area can ease inflammation and pain.
- Glycerine and baking soda can be used directly to soothe sores and reduce irritation. Baking soda also helps remove the gastric acid in the mouth caused by acid reflux.
- Oregano oil, packed with antimicrobial property is also a recommended remedy for oral inflammation.
- Drink lots of fluids to keep the mouth hydrated. Thus, irritation and soreness due to dry mouth can be avoided.