The human tongue is a powerful sensory organ responsible for speech and for tasting food. It contains numerous tiny bumps, called papillae that line the tongue and inside these bumps are housed thousands of taste buds. There are about 10,000 taste buds in the tongue.
These taste buds are the reason why you can differentiate between tastes like sweet, salty, bitter and sour. If you want your taste buds to keep bringing you the essence of food, you need to keep your tongue healthy.
A healthy tongue is pink and painless. Normally, you can’t really feel your taste buds, however, if you feel that your tongue is hurting, then there are chances that the taste buds are inflamed and irritated.
Sometimes, the papillae can get swollen and tender white or red bumps can appear on the tongue causing pain and discomfort. These swollen taste buds may make eating and drinking uncomfortable. There are some reasons as to why the taste buds become enlarged and inflamed.
Acid Reflux and GERD
If you get frequent bouts of acid refluxes or are suffering from gastroesophageal reflux (GERD), acid backs up from your stomach to the esophagus. If that acid makes its way back to your mouth, it can cause the papillae on the tongue to burn.
Burning your mouth
Drinking or eating hot beverages and food can burn the taste buds and cause them to swell. The heat from the hot food and drinks burns and causes the taste buds to become inflamed.
Cigarettes contain chemicals which tend to irritate the taste buds and cause inflammation. Smoking affects your ability to taste as they cause the taste buds to become dull, reducing your ability to distinguish flavors.
Spicy or too acidic foods
Eating extra spicy food like hot peppers or citrus fruits which are quite acidic in nature can irritate the tongue and cause them to swell.
Although very rare, swelling or redness of the tongue could be signs of oral cancer but usually with cancer like this, the bumps appear on the sides of the tongue or there may be a lump on it.
Deficiency of essential vitamins like vitamin B, lack of iron and other nutrients may cause inflamed taste buds.
Stress brings along many other illnesses with it. Being under stress is also linked to enlarged and irritated papillae.
Treatment and prevention
Taste buds are generally reproduced every one to two weeks but as you age, they are no longer able to do that as often. Most taste buds are benign and your body has the ability to heal them by themselves.
Holding small amounts of ice chips on the tongue helps relieve pain but, if the inflamed taste buds don’t heal in time it’s better to be consulting a doctor to evaluate the underlying causes and get treated with the help of antibiotic if need be. In order to look after your taste buds and keep your mouth healthy, there are some points to remember.
You need to practice good oral hygiene which includes brushing twice daily, using floss daily and using a mouth rinse. This helps in keeping the bacteria away keeping the tongue and teeth healthy.
Other than this quitting smoking always helps with the oral and overall wellbeing of a person. One has to avoid eating spicy or acidic foods as well. As for people facing acid refluxes and GERD, medications should be taken such as proton pump inhibitors and H2 receptor blockers.
Prevention is always better than cure and if you start taking care of your diet and the accumulative health of your body, your tongue will stay healthy and free from any inflamed and painful taste buds.