Swollen Taste Buds (Inflamed Papillae), On Back of Tongue, Sides, Treatment

cropped taste buds on person s tongue

A closer look to swollen taste buds that are found on the back of the tongue, the sides, causes enlarged papillae as well as treatment

Taste buds are the anatomical structures that mediate the sense of taste. They comprise taste cells and nerve fibers within specialized epithelial structures.

Taste cells are traditionally described by histologic methods as basal, dark, intermediate, and light cells, with the nerve fibers surrounding and infiltrating the taste buds. By means of immunohistochemical methods, taste cells and gustatory nerve fibers can be classified in functional groups based on the expression of various cell adhesion molecules and other proteins.

When taste buds become damaged, the loss of the ability to taste results. This loss is not uncommon and can impact health and quality of life. Patients who receive radiation therapy for head and neck cancer often experience taste loss, which leads to compromised nutritional intake and a worse outcome than patients who do not experience taste loss.

The mode of radiation damage to taste cells and nerve fibers has been investigated using cell adhesion molecules, synaptic vesicle proteins, and other cell markers. The light and intermediate cells are preferentially affected by ionizing radiation, whereas the nerve fibers remain structurally intact

Swollen Taste Buds Causes

Where are my taste buds?

Taste buds are the anatomical structures which contain the receptor cells that mediate the sense of taste. Taste buds are found in the oral cavity, primarily on the tongue but also on the palate, back of the mouth, pharynx, epiglottis, and larynx. The tongue is covered with numerous papillae.

Problems with taste are caused by anything that interrupts the transfer of taste sensations to the brain, or by conditions that affect the way the brain interprets the sensation of taste.

The most common causes of swollen taste buds are

  • Certain medications (anti-thyroid, zinc preparations, antibiotics, neurologic drugs and others)
  • Chemotherapy or radiation treatment causes damages to the mucous membrane for cancer patients, this brings about therapy attack that increase at a very fast rate more than the normal ones.
  • Aging (decreased ability to taste and smell)
  • Medical conditions (Bell’s palsy, Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, GERD and others)
  • Injuries to the mouth, nose or head leads to swollen taste buds
  • Poor oral hygiene is a lead to swollen taste buds
  • Fungal infections on the tongue or in the mouth area
  • Head and neck cancers

Inflamed Taste Bud

The swelling and inflammation of the taste buds can prevent one from detecting the taste of something whether salty, sour or bitter. The taste buds are located inside the mouth of an individual around the tongue and even some on the palate and epiglottis.

The taste buds are numerous and range from 2000 to 8000, they are very sensitive and often look swollen can sometimes appear irritated. Inflammations can grow into complications but proper diagnosis of the causes can be the best for treatment of the swollen taste buds.

The tongue is an important structure in the oral cavity and the strongest muscular organ in the body involved in critical functions of taste, speaking, chewing and swallowing.

The basic anatomy of tongue is such that unless scrupulous dental hygiene is followed it may lead to pathological lesions. Since the earliest days of medicine, the tongue has been considered a good reflection of systemic diseases.

Assessment of the tongue has historically been an important part of a clinical medical examination as many pathological lesions are seen exclusively on the tongue.

Lesions occurring on the tongue are vast and range from developmental disorders to infections to idiopathic lesions to malignancies; some lesions may be clues to the underlying systemic illness. General practitioners/physicians and dentists regularly come across such lesions on tongue in their day-to-day practice.

A basic and through knowledge of the commonly occurring lesions on the tongue may enlighten the general practitioner in regards to the diagnosis and thereby help in the most effective management of the patients.

Uniform diagnostic criteria may heighten the level of clinical diagnosis. Most lesions occurring on tongue heal fast owing to the rich blood supply and if a lesion fails to heal within 10-14 days it must be biopsied and/or further evaluation is necessary for an appropriate diagnosis

Infected Taste Bud

Most tongue disorders are short-lived and resolve spontaneously or with simple treatment, while others may cause long-term difficulties, requiring up-to-date medical management.

Recognition and diagnosis require taking a thorough history and performing a complete oral examination.

The infections that occur on the taste buds arise out of the following;

  • Oral lesions are secondary to pulmonary infection and seldom a primary infection. The integrity of oral epithelium normally resists direct penetration by tubercle bacilli. Thus, bacilli can be inoculated either when there is a break in continuity of epithelium or by hematogeneous seeding. Local predisposing factors like infections, local trauma, poor oral hygiene and systemic predisposing factors like immunosuppression and nutritional deficiency also play a major role in occurrence of oral TB.
  • Injuries to the tongue are seen as lacerations or ulcerations and are caused by physical, chemical and thermal injury, the most common causes being physical. Injuries may result from accidental biting while talking, sleeping, secondary to mastication, self-induced by patients or secondary to seizures. In addition to these causes, fractured, carious, malposed or malformed teeth and premature eruption of teeth, poorly maintained and ill, fitting dental prosthetic appliances may cause trauma. Ulceration can occur on the lateral borders of tongue can impair taste sensation when there is damage to the taste buds located in the papilla hence swollen taste buds.
  • Recurrent herpes is a painful viral infection caused by human herpes virus 1 and occurs in approximately one-third of patients who have experienced primary herpetic gingivostomatitis. Unlike primary herpes, it is a more limited disease and occurs on keratinized mucosa of lips, gingiva, hard palate and dorsal aspect of the tongue.

The lesion presents as vesicles in a discrete area, typically the same site every time in any given patient. Vesicles rupture easily in the oral cavity; hence generally an ulcer can be seen.

Triggers for recurrence may include trauma from a dental procedure emotional stress and systemic illness.

Recurrent herpes in immunosuppressed individuals is severe and may occur on any oral mucosal surface, including nonkeratinized sites or solely as lesions on the dorsal aspect of the tongue presenting as red or white nodules or painful nonvascular ulcerations or fissures and rarely also as a tongue mass

  • Macroglossia is the presence of excessively large tongue which protrudes between the alveolar ridges. It can be congenital due to muscular hypertrophy or may be due to secondary causes like tumor, hemangioma, etc.

This condition causes problems in feeding, breathing, swallowing, normal jaw development. It interferes with teeth positioning and causes malocclusion and hence the lateral borders of the tongue show scalloping corresponding to the spaces between teeth and gingiva.

  • Iron and vitamin deficiency is one of the most common deficiencies that affect the oral cavity including the tongue leading to swollen taste buds.

Chronic iron deficiency is associated with Plummer Vinson syndrome where tongue is very painful with burning sensation. The tongue is inflamed and beefy red, smooth or bald due to atrophy of papilla, hence called as Hunter’s glossitis.

Vitamin B12 deficiency associated with pernicious anemia results in inflammation of the tongue with beefy red, atrophy of papilla and soreness resulting in smooth tongue. The tongue is severely affected by other vitamin deficiencies like niacin deficiency (pellagra) results in black tongue and riboflavin deficiency causes magenta tongue.

The treatment should comprise of first identifying the underlying cause of the deficiency and then the appropriate supplement should be given.

  • Squamous cell carcinoma of the tongue is the most common malignant tumor of the oral cavity in patients younger than 40 years and is more common in men than women.

It is regarded as a biologically different entity compared to cancer affecting other oral sites. It is more aggressive and generally associated with a higher rate of metastasis.

It commonly involves the mobile tongue i.e., anterior two-thirds of the tongue, lateral borders followed by dorsum. It may arise de novo or from an existing leukoplakia or irritation from a sharp tooth or prosthesis.

It is clinically silent as there is laxity of the tissue planes separating the intrinsic tongue musculature, which helps cancer cells to spread easily and becomes symptomatic only when tumor size interferes with tongue mobility.

  • Recurrent aphthous stomatitis, also called as canker sores, is an inflammatory lesion of unknown etiology, thought to be an immunological disorder. It is seen as painful ulcers affecting both keratinized and nonkeratinized mucosa. There are three clinical forms: aphthous minor, major and herpetiform ulcers.
  • Pyogenic granuloma is a nonneoplastic, inflammatory hyperplastic response to various stimuli like low-grade infection, injury, trauma or hormonal factors. It commonly affects females in the second decade. It is seen commonly on skin and oral mucosa as smooth or lobulated exophytic hemorrhagic and compressible lesion, which is usually pedunculated but sometimes sessile. The lesion is usually asymptomatic, may grow rapidly in size and may vary in size from few millimeters to centimeters. The surface is usually friable and ulcerated as it is composed of hyperplastic granulation tissue with pronounced vascularity. Gingiva is the commonest site for occurrence of pyogenic granulomas with lateral borders of tongue, buccal mucosa and lips being the next common site. These lesions are treated successfully with removal of local irritants and conservative surgical excision. Latest techniques like laser, cryosurgery and electro-dissection cause less bleeding and are well-tolerated by patients with no adverse effects

Enlarged Papillae

This are small bumps that are found on the top side of the tongue with the same color as the tongue under any given normal circumstances and are unnoticeable. They provide the tongue with a rough texture for helps in eating, they equally have taste buds as well as some temperature sensors.

They can become enlarged due to several factors most of which are not serious reasons. However if the bumps are persistent, then you should consult your doctor before they make it hard to eat.

Almost every individual has experienced bumps of the tongue at some point in life. This little bumps form when the papillae is at times becomes slightly irritated and is swollen and there is no clear reason why this happens but researchers relate it to stress or allergy to some particular foods.

Eruptive lingual papillitis is very common among children and is very contagious. It is usually accompanied with fever and swollen glands though it is associated with a sort of viral infection. It doesn’t require treatment and clears up within a few weeks though it can recur at some point.

Swollen Taste Buds Treatment

Home remedies for swollen taste buds

  • Ice relieves the swelling that is found in the mouth, you should gently press the ice against the walls of your mouth. Do not the ice stay in the mouth for too long as it may constrict the blood vessels and cause a bigger and difficult problem.
  • Warm salt solution; this a very common remedy when salt is dissolved into warm water and gargled in the mouth, the inflammation in the mouth is fast relieved as warm water enhances blood flow in the mouth area while also killing the bacteria.
  • Baking soda; this should be applied directly or around the affected area as it cools down the inflammation in the tongue and thus relieving the tongue, it should however be noted that this is a basic substance. If the cause of your swollen taste bud is the reflux from the stomach then the baking soda will have a counter effect
  • Garlic and pepper; concoction of the three taken four times a day will bring about a relieving effect especially if this is caused by bacteria
  • Tea tree oil; this mixed with warm water should be gargled; this should be applied to the taste buds that are infected by bacteria, but too much of this is not recommended as it may sometimes cause hallucination which may present a more bigger problem to the swollen taste buds.

But most important, you need to avoid by identification of the cause of the condition and to avoid occurrence of the following so as not to have swollen taste buds;

  • Avoid intake of too hot or spicy foods and any other food that one is allergic with.
  • Avoid smoking of tobacco
  • Ingestion of alcohol and other toxic materials like poison and any other irritating solutions should be avoided as they have the effect on the individual of swollen taste buds
  • Trauma and injury to the oral orifice especially the mouth should be avoided
  • Application of such substances as glycerin to the affected area can sometimes lighten the symptoms.
  • If there is a wound on the tongue that may be caused by a tongue bite, then glycerin applied and spilled will assist the taste buds to recover. The procedure should be repeated a number of times in a day.
  • Take vitamins especially the vitamin B complex while you are on other treatment will go a long way in reducing the inflammation of taste buds.
  • Yoghurt will also help to relieve the swollen taste buds as it contains several microorganisms that balance the oral mucosa environment

Medical treatment

Infected taste buds should always be treated using prescribed antibiotics by a specialized medical doctor. If the cause of the swollen taste buds is nutritional deficiency, then intake of supplements such as vitamin B and C may as well solve the problem.

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