Taste buds are cells located on the surface of the Tongue to help in taste perception. The taste buds are located on the Papillae of Tongue (Fungiform Papillae, inner walls of the trough surrounding the vallate papilla, folds of foliate papillae and the posterior surface of epiglottis). The taste buds are located on the upper surface of these papillae and approximately 1600 taste buds are located on the fungiform papillae. In general for common people or patients, papillae are perceived as taste buds but a taste bud is comprised of supporting cells which are known as Sustenticular cells which help in the process of taste perception. A Taste bud is made up of Taste pore, taste receptor cell, basal cell and afferent nerve.

Taste buds (papillae) are not visible to the naked eye in normal healthy patient, but in case of any inflammation or infection or injury to the papillae or taste buds they become swollen and can be visible to the naked eye. They change in color in case of infection into white or swollen red in color, if infected they can become fluid filled blisters termed as pustules on the surface of the tongue.

Taste buds regenerate themselves every 1 to 2 weeks and they become swollen or change in color in case of any injury or infection between this phase happens. Let us look at the causes for taste buds or papillae on tongue to become swollen and what can be done to fix it.

Causes of Swollen Taste Buds:

Taste buds are delicate and small sensory organs which are located inside the Papillae on the surface of tongue. It has multiple taste receptor cells and connected with an afferent nerve the whole set called as Sustenticular Cells (Supporting cells of Taste Buds) which are quite sensitive to any excess force or Heat leading to damage to these cells resulting in loss of taste perception in the particular region. Taste perception is restored back once the cells are regenerated over a period of 10-14 days.

Swollen tastebuds or papillae causes

Trauma from Burns, Cuts: One of the most common cause of damage to the taste buds happens when you consume Hot or Spicy foods leading to burning of the surface of the tongue where might have observed that you cannot taste any food in that particular area for a few days. Trauma, burns, etc lead to inflammation of the tastebuds which become swollen.

Trauma from sharp teeth ends: This is also one of the common reasons for swollen taste buds and pain in the tongue due to an ulcer. Sharp restorations or teeth ends when the tooth is fractured can lead to swelling in the taste buds as they are inflamed due to repeated trauma.

Acid Reflux: Many people suffer from GERD or Gastro Esophgeal Reflux Disorder which results in Acid from the stomach to come into the mouth resulting in many oral complications and one of which is injury to the taste buds. The Stomach acids is made up of hydrochloric acid (HCl), potassium chloride (KCl), and sodium chloride (NaCl) all of which are harmful to the delicate sensory cells – Taste buds doing reversible or irreversible damage to the cells which have to regenerate to regain function. Getting GERD under control by visiting a Gastroenterology specialist will bring swollen taste buds under control to their normal size.

Dry Mouth or Xerostomia: This is another major cause of swollen taste buds which is caused due to the decreased saliva in the oral cavity leading to dryness of the oral cavity. Decrease in saliva leads to Redness of the tongue and in severe cases called as bald tongue where all the papillae on the surface of the tongue are flattened or swollen. This leads to loss of taste and constant burning sensation on the surface of the tongue. There are many causes of Dry Mouth – Drugs causing Dry Mouth, underlying health problem, salivary gland disease, Dehydration, Radiation therapy, Thyroid disorder, uncontrolled Diabetes, Anxiety or Depression etc.

Illness or Infection: Taste buds respond to any underlying systemic infection like Bacterial, Viral, fungal etc which can lead to swollen taste buds. In cases like Tongue cancer can also lead to Inflammation of taste buds.

Poor Oral Hygiene: Bad Oral hygiene is one of the major causes for swollen or inflamed taste buds. Regular tongue cleaning is a must to keep the Papillae and taste buds healthy without them becoming inflamed.

Habits (Smoking, Vaping pan, Ghutka etc)Taste buds can get inflamed due to habits such as Cigarette smoking, vaping which affect the taste buds due to the heat produced from them. Other habits such as  ghutka and pan can lead to inflammation of the taste buds due to their ingredients.

Acidic Medications or Food: Certain types of Acidic food or medications on regular usage can lead to inflammation of the tongue

 When should you Visit a Doctor or Dentist:

In most cases swollen taste buds heal and return to normal size by themselves within a few days, if that is not the case and they appear swollen and painful for many days and are recurring multiple times, you need to visit a Doctor to get the underlying cause evaluated.

Treatment of Swollen Taste buds:

Treatment of Swollen taste buds depends on the cause of the swelling and treating the causative factor, it is important to maintain good oral hygiene, regular scrapping of tongue after brushing, gargle after every meal to prevent any food remnants leading to any infection.

Follow simple and basic oral hygiene instructions as mentioned above and see whether the swelling subsides, if it is not the case or swelling is recurring it is best to visit a Dentist to get it checked or a General physician to evaluate the underlying condition and treat it accordingly.