Without taste buds you may not be able to sense the taste of your favorite food in the restaurant. It is only these tiny organs that allow you to experience the pleasure of delicious food. Sweet, salt, sour and bitter are some of the basic tastes sensed by your tongue. You can see several minute bumps on the tongue, which are known as papillae and each of them contain taste buds. Papillae is located not only on the tongue but on the soft palate of the oral cavity, the esophagus (upper region) and on the cheeks and epiglottis. Each adult has 10,000 taste buds which die gradually (every two weeks) to get replaced by fresh ones.
Taste buds contain microscopic hairs known as microvilli which are responsible for sending signals to the brain to identify the taste of the item placed into your mouth. As you grow old, not all the taste buds can be replaced with fresh ones. So it is quite possible for an old person not to identify certain taste immediately. Often the number of taste buds gets reduced by half as one becomes old. If you are a smoker, then chances are high that your taste buds number diminishes day by day.
Nose plays a vital role in determining the taste of each food you eat. Olfactory receptors are made of special cells to smell the food and it is the ones that send signals to the brain conveying the taste of particular food. As you start eating, food particles present in the mouth triggers the release of certain chemicals which in turn induces the olfactory receptors. Taste buds present in the tongue together with the olfactory receptors sends messages to the brain creating particular flavor of foodstuff. That is the reason why you are not able to sense any taste of the food when you have runny nose. The taste buds are capable of detecting 5 different flavors namely, sweet, salt, sour, bitter and savory.
Cranial nerves by name facial nerve, vagus nerve and glossopharyngeal nerve are vital in detecting any taste signals sent by the taste buds to the brain. Once the food is placed in the mouth, it mixes with saliva and reaches the taste pores or receptors. The next thing the taste buds do is to convey the message to the brain together with olfactory receptors of the nose. These signals are received and perceived by the 7th, 9th and 10th cranial nerves which in turn detect and identify flavor of the food. When the taste buds develop inflammation or gets damaged due to any reason, the person may not be able to detect the right taste of the food.
Why Taste Buds Gets Inflamed ?
Many factors can damage the taste buds and repair them. Taste buds can get irritated and swollen due to many causes which are listed below:
- Acidic Foods and Spicy Foods
There is nothing wrong in eating spicy or acidic items which are within the limit. Strong acidic foods can irritate the soft papillae of the taste buds. Similarly high spicy items can damage the taste receptors causing inflammation of taste buds. Such foods can cause itchiness on the tongue and if you start scratching the tongue it can make things worse causing more and more irritation.
- Very Hot or Very Cold Foods
Taste buds can get affected by taking very hot drinks or very cold drinks. The tongue can develop swelling resulting in inflammation of taste buds. Very hot drinks can burn your mouth as well as your tongue.
Allergens are items including foods, drinks that triggers itching and swelling of the tongue. It can be medications, foods, and sometimes dental procedures. Taste buds of the tongue become inflamed due to allergens. In severe cases the entire oral cavity can get damaged and inflamed due to such allergens. You need to be careful in avoiding such foods and dental products.
Tobacco in any form can damage the taste receptors. Smoking or chewing tobacco products can gradually damage the taste buds causing irritation. Taste receptors can develop swelling by regular use of alcohol.
It is true that heightened anxiety and stress can affect your abdomen. Similarly, high stress level can affect your taste buds also. Anxiety or stress if continues for prolonged period can affect your hormone balance resulting in weakened immunity. This condition can weaken the body making it prone to bacterial infection resulting in swelling of taste buds.
- Acid Reflux
Gastro Esophageal Reflux Disorder (GERD) is a common problem for many people causing irritation and chest burn. Acid and other enzymes released in the stomach would be pushed back by the reflux reaction of the opening of the sphincter muscles forcing acid into the esophagus and mouth. This can cause considerable irritation of the throat, tongue and mouth. Repeated acid reflux can affect the taste buds developing inflammation.
- Mouth Infections
Certain conditions like oral thrush, canker sores and Candida infection can severely affect the soft mucus membrane of the mouth and tongue damaging the taste receptors. On such occasions, inflamed taste buds will affect the sensing of any taste.
- Biting Of Tongue
Accidental biting of tongue or any form of tongue injury or certain kinds of dental procedures can cause irritation of taste receptors leading to swelling. The taste buds develop swelling by repeated rubbing of tongue. Even harsh scraping of the tongue and flossing can damage the taste buds.
Certain medications like antibiotics (strong doses), zinc products, drugs given for neurological disorders and thyroid problems can damage the taste receptors.
Chemotherapy or radiation therapy given for throat cancer or oral cancer can cause severe damage of taste receptors and the person is likely to lose their normal tasting ability. Here the damage of taste buds is fast and quicker than other less serious conditions.
- Old Age
Aging is another important phenomenon that would reduce your tasting ability. As a man grows older, he/she may lose normal ability of taste and smell.
- Other Factors
Certain medical conditions like prolonged diabetes, Parkinson’s disease and Bell’s palsy can reduce the ability of taste receptors and smelling ability gradually. Poor oral hygiene can cause inflamed taste buds. Wearing ill fitting dental appliances and accidental biting of tongue during seizure attack are some other causes for inflamed taste buds. Iron and other vitamin deficiency are some other factors causing tongue irritation and inflammation of taste buds.
Home Remedies :
Both medical treatment and home remedies are available for repairing the damaged taste buds. Simple home remedies for treating inflamed taste buds are listed here.
- Ice Cubes
Apply ice cubs wrapped in soft cloth on the swollen areas of the tongue. This would soothe the tongue reducing inflammation gradually. But ice cubes can remain intact with the tongue only for few seconds. Take care not to burn the tongue adding more damage.
- Good Hydration
Keep your body well hydrated by taking plenty of water and other fluids. Loss of bodily fluids and ions can cause inflamed taste buds damaging the taste buds. Dry mouth and dehydration can affect the taste receptors causing irritation and inflammation of the tongue. Eating blanch diets and drinking plenty of fluids can help in restoring the lost ions.
Place one tsp of yogurt in your tongue. Allow it to remain in the tongue for few seconds before swallowing it. Yogurt is an effective home remedy for treating irritated taste buds and inflamed taste buds.
- Baking Soda
Inflamed taste buds can be treated effectively with baking soda paste. Add few drops of water in one tsp of baking soda and apply this paste on your tongue. Leave it for few seconds before rinsing it. Anti-inflammatory property of baking soda can fight swelling and irritation.
- Salt Water
This is very simple but effective home remedy for sore throat and any kind of allergic reaction in the oral cavity. Add one tsp of table salt in a glass of lukewarm water and gargle it. This will quickly remove the irritation of taste receptors and reduce swelling. You can repeat this treatment several times a day for getting quick relief from inflamed taste buds.
- Tea Tree Oil
Gargle your oral cavity with tea tree oil solution by adding few drops of this oil in lukewarm water. This can reduce irritation and swelling of your tongue. This simple remedy is effective in removing bacteria and other parasites from your mouth.
- Honey Solution
Pure honey is an excellent remedy for inflamed taste buds. It is enriched with antibacterial and anti-inflammatory property. Keep a tsp of honey in your tongue and leave it for few seconds. Alternatively you can add 1-2 tsp of honey in lukewarm water and gargle it many times before drinking.
Application of glycerin on the inflamed tongue can reduce swelling gradually. Any kind of painful sores and injury on the mouth can be cured with glycerin.
Medical Treatment :
- If none of the above home remedies can give you quick relief from inflamed taste buds you can visit your doctor.
- Antibiotics are prescribed for treating inflammation caused by bacterial infection.
- Suitable antifungal drugs are given for fungal infections. Antiviral medications are prescribed for treating viral infections like oral thrush and HPV.
- In case the inflammation has developed due to nutritional deficiency you will be given supplementary vitamins.
Tips For Prevention :
- You should be aware and identify the causes and factors that are responsible for causing irritation and inflammation of taste buds.
- Avoid allergens and food items that can trigger allergy completely.
- Avoid eating/drinking too hot and too cold foods.
- Reduce the intake of alcohol and quit smoking.