What causes swollen taste buds on the tongue (tip, side, and back)? How do you get rid of the swelling? Discover common causes, remedies and treatments for enlargement of taste buds.
Taste receptors are located on taste buds which are found on tiny structures (lingual papillae) located on “upper surface of the tongue, soft palate, upper esophagus, the cheek, and epiglottis” [Wikipedia]. They are responsible for detecting five primary taste elements i.e. bitter, salty, sour, sweet, and umami whose combination helps us detect various flavors.
These buds are found in only three of the four papillae i.e. circumvallate, fungiform, and foliate papillae while they are absent on the filiform papillae.
When they are swollen it means they have become bigger or enlarged i.e. distended circumvallate, fungiform, and foliate papillae. The swelling could be on one side of the tongue, in the back, on the tip of the tongue or on the cheek, soft palate or the other parts that have them.
The papillae will appear elongated, having a rough surface and they can also be irritated (aggravated) or inflamed. Other symptoms you may have include redness, tongue surface color changes, sore throat, loss of function (tasting function), pain, white sores (or white dots) or red dots, etc. depending on what actually caused them.
This can happen on a single location or multiple of parts of your tongue and mouth.
Why are they swollen?
There are many reasons why they swell as well as be inflamed, irritated and painful. Some of the common causes include the following:
a. Spicy, acidic and salty foods
Ingesting foods that are too spicy, acidic or salty can trigger swelling. Most of such foods often irritate them, which in some cases might make them swell.
At times, these foods might trigger an itchy tongue. To help relieve the itch, most people will tend to rub or scratch their tongue against their teeth. This will worsen things as it further irritates your taste buds and tongue.
b. Hot drinks and foods
Taking very hot drinks and foods can cause inflamed and swollen taste buds, tongue, and other parts of your mouth.
c. Trauma, injuries, rubbing and biting
Tongue injuries, oral surgeries, rubbing, and biting can result in an irritated and swollen painful taste buds. Furthermore, tongue scraping can also be responsible for this problem. Avoid biting, scrapping or rubbing your it against any objects, your teeth or dental appliances.
d. Allergic reactions
Various allergens can trigger swelling especially food, dental care products, medications and among others. Allergies are also known to trigger tongue and mouth swelling.
If you notice this problem each time you take a certain food (such as nuts, kinds of seafood, grapefruits, lemons), medication or use a certain dental care product, it could be behind the swelling and irritation.
e. Tobacco chewing and alcohol
If you indulge in alcohol consumption and tobacco chewing, they could be behind your woos. These products both irritate them as well as encourage infections which might cause swelling.
f. Stress and depression
Some experts have a belief that excessive stress can have a hand in your tastebuds swelling. It has been noticed that some people tend to have this problem when they are under much stress and thus the conclusion. Stress affects hormonal balance and weakens body immunity. This makes your body vulnerable to infection.
g. Acid reflux disease
Gastric acid regurgitation due to acid reflux disease can also irritate your tongue, mouth and especially buds for tasting. This is because of the much acid contained in the regurgitated food.
h. Mouth infections and conditions
Various mouth infections such as candidiasis, oral thrush, canker sores, oral cancer, and mouth ulcers are known to cause this problem especially around the affected areas of your mouth.
This can happen if the sexually transmitted disease that can affect your mouth and thus papillae. Some of the common STDs that can possibly inflame or cause swelling include
- Type 1 (HSV-1) oral herpes (fever blisters or cold sores). This disease cause sores on various parts of the body include your mouth and tongue and thus they can make papillae swollen and painful including your buds.
- Syphilis can also cause sores in your mouth and lips and consequently make them swollen.
- Oral gonorrhea is known to cause itching and soreness of throat, swallowing difficulties and yellowish or white exudates. It can be responsible for this problem especially at the back of the tongue and sore throat.
j. Deficiency in some nutrients
Deficiency of some vital nutrients such as vitamins B complex, C or folate can increase the possibility of one having swollen papillae and buds.
It is common for someone to have this problem on the tongue. They can be caused by most of the reasons we have discussed above include tongue infections, injuries, spicy foods, swollen tongue, etc.
1. On tip of tongue
Since you have a high concentration of fungiform papillae at the tip of the tongue, a swelling in this region might indicate a problem with your fungiform papillae. However, it can be caused by any of the above causes especially injuries such as biting, rubbing against your teeth and scrapping.
If this happens during pregnancy, ensure you seek medical attention to know what could be causing it since the cause could or could not be related to your pregnancy.
2. On side of tongue
At times, you might the ones on edge or side of the tongue might swell. This area has mainly the fungiform papillae as well as foliate papillae. The causes are much or less the same as general causes we have already discussed.
3. On back of tongue
When in this area, you are likely to experience problems with bitter tastes i.e. you can’t taste. The buds might be small, big or raised depending on what causes this problem. If you on the side of your back tongue, you might have an issue with your foliate papillae since this is where it is located.
Causes are not different from the general causes we have already seen and they include allergic reactions, spicy foods, salty foods, acid reflex, gonorrhea (when you have a sore throat), injuries, tobacco, alcohol, stress, among many others.
If the swelling is accompanied by a sore throat as well as other flu-like symptoms, you might be suffering from upper respiratory tract infections.
Treatment will depend on the causes. Most of the treatments and remedies we will later discuss will be helpful.
With a sore throat
It is common to have swollen taste buds especially at the back of the tongue and sore throat. If you have other symptoms such as sinus drainage problem, cough, headache, fever and congestion, you might be having an upper respiratory infection.
Other infections such as gonorrhea can also cause a sore throat, difficulties in breathing as well as some bumps in the backside of your tongue. Finally, having a dry throat can be a cause taste buds swelling.
Swollen white tastebuds
If they are white, which could be on your tongue tip, back of the tongue or on the top surface, there are chances you have a conditions called transient lingual papillitis. This condition is characterized by red or white small bumps on the tongue.
Other possible causes include, "stress, gastrointestinal upset, menstruation, acidic or sour food, smoking, and local trauma" [Wikipedia].
Treatment and remedies
How do you get rid of swollen taste buds? What if they are inflamed or painful? Well, we will look at various treatments, remedies, and cures which might be helpful.
1. Antiseptic mouthwashes
If the swelling is due to infections especially bacterial infection, you can swish anti-septic mouthwash. They will promote healing and prevent any future infections. After swishing your mouthwash, do not swallow it.
2. Treat underlying cause
We have seen that many infections and conditions can cause this problem. Ensure you get the correct diagnosis and treatment for a qualified healthcare personnel. The treatment you will receive will be tied to the cause. Whether it is oral thrush, canker sores, oral sores, mouth ulcers, oral cancer, etc., there are treatments.
The common treatments or medications you expect will be antivirals, antibiotics or antifungals for viral, bacterial and fungal infections respectively.
3. Sea salt water gargles
This involves preparing a sea salt and warm water mixture and gargling it at least 3 times a day. Mix one teaspoon of sea salt in a cup of water and gargle the solution. This solution will help to reduce the swelling and inflammation.
4. Use of ice
Chewing or applying ice on your mouth can bring down the swelling. While using this method, ensure you do not overdo it by keeping the ice for too long since it can affect normal blood circulation.
5. Baking soda
If they are also inflamed, try applying baking powder since it works well as an anti-inflammatory and it will also aid in reducing the swelling.
6. Garlic + ginger + pepper
Another way on how to treat taste buds swelling is eating foods with healing properties as well as those that help fight infections. Eat foods that contain garlic, ginger, and pepper since they can help reduce inflammations as well as decrease the chances of getting an infection.
7. Swashing honey
Swashing honey in your mouth is a great way to get rid of the swelling since honey has healing properties as well as antibacterial ones. It will quickly heal them.
8. Other remedies
Besides the above ways, you can try the following:
- Use glycerin especially the cause is injury related or mouth sores. Glycerin has excellent healing properties.
- Add a few drops of tea tree oil in warm water and gargle it. It will help in reducing mouth infections caused by bacteria. Ensure you do not use many drops since you might begin hallucinating.
- If you are prone to fungal infection, try oil of oregano since it has ‘potent antifungal properties’ besides many other medicinal benefits.
- Drink natural yogurt to help combat some fungal infections and restore healthy bacteria in your mouth and digestive tract.
I guess what to do for swollen taste buds is clear now. Let us look at some ways to prevent this problem.
Prevention is better than cure. You do not need to wait until you have this problem. To help prevent the occurrence of this problem, you need to ensure you:
- Avoid foods that are salty, spicy or too hot foods and beverages since we have already mentioned they can cause this mouth and tongue problem.
- Stop smoking or chewing tobacco
- Avoid ingesting any toxic materials including poison, irritating solutions, alcohol, and insecticides
- Keep proper oral hygiene to reduce chances of any infections that might make your tasting buds swell.
- Avoid rubbing or scraping your tongue with objects or even your teeth. Furthermore, ensure you use your toothbrush carefully to avoid scrubbing or rubbing your papillae too much
Sources and references