Taste Buds: 8 Causes, Anatomy, and Treatment
Your taste buds on the tongue are the reason you can taste the foods and drinks.
It might be surprising for you to learn that you have thousands of taste buds in your tongue to thank for.
However, not every individual has the same amount of them.
The surface of your tongue contains tiny bumps, Papillae that contain thousands of taste buds.
Moreover, some glands help in the creation and secretion of saliva.
Let’s learn more about them in detail.
Taste Buds and Their Anatomy
The human tongue consists of tiny bumps that contain thousands of taste buds.
These taste buds give your tongue the ability to taste the foods and drinks you consume.
There are 4 different types of bumps or are called Papillae on your tongue that come in different shapes and sizes.
Moreover, these are also present in different regions of your tongue in varying numbers. Let’s learn more about them in detail.
What is common among the different regions of your tongue is taste buds and can help you enjoy 5 primary tastes: sweet, sour, salt, bitter, and umami.
However, there are certain factors that can affect your tastebuds and change the way you perceive taste.
These factors are age, illness, nerve disorders, medications, etc.
Let’s learn about the anatomy of your taste buds.
Anatomy of Taste Buds
Taste buds are a combination of cells that are basal cells, columnar cells, and contains about 10 to 50 receptors.
These taste receptor cells have the ability to renew every 9 to 10 days.
Some of these receptors contain proteins on their surface that bind some of the chemicals from the food and drinks you consume.
While others have channels that are activated by other chemicals.
When you consume food, these receptors on different types of papillae detect a particular chemical and it converts the information of the chemical along with a series of neural pathways to your brain.
Your brain then perceives these chemicals.
Moreover, the number of taste buds on the area of the tongue varies from 2000 to 8000.
It is important to note that some people might have fewer, large taste buds while some may have smaller ones.
Interestingly, there are different types of taste receptors that activate when a specific chemical interacts with your tastebuds.
The receptors for sweet, sour, bitter, salty sour, and umami are proteins present on the surface of the cells.
These cells interact with them in the presence of specific chemicals, thus, triggers a sensation or a sequence of events resulting in the chemical message to your brain.
However, that is not the only taste sensation on your tongue.
There are a number of taste receptors present in your throat, and in your gut as well.
Although these receptors act slightly differently than those present in your tongue, they perform the same function.
It is important to note that the way a certain food smells, is also important for your overall eating experience.
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Factors Affecting Taste Buds
The tastebuds on your tongue are responsible for the flavors you enjoy, the world has to offer.
However, they interact with a certain food or substance, the taste cells inside your state buds send a message to your brain.
This helps you to make sense of what you are tasting. Let’s learn about what causes an Impaired taste and what factors effects your taste buds.
The taste cells on your tongue work together with chemical and physical senses to produce what your term “flavor”.However, changes in your taste buds can affect the way to perceive a flavor.
Foods can often become bland or lack flavor, moreover, changing the perception of flavors, especially via your taste buds.
These changes are due to a number of factors that include medications, infections, and more. However, before moving these factors let’s discuss what an Impaired Taste is.
Different factors contribute to causing an impaired taste and often involve your respiratory system.
The temporary interruption of smell you often experience during a common cold or other respiratory illness can impair your sense of taste.
The most common conditions that can impair your taste are as follows:
Other causes of impaired taste can be smoking, gum inflammation like gingivitis, periodontal diseases, etc.
It is important to note that certain medications can also contribute to impaired taste.
These include lithium, thyroid medications, Sjogren’s syndrome, or nutritional deficiencies.
Nutritional deficiencies include Vitamin B-12 and since deficiency in particular.
Moreover, certain disorders of the nerves can also affect them.
These affect the nerves and how they send the message to your brain and the rest of the body to control the taste.
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Factors affecting your Taste Buds
The following are certain factors that affect your taste buds.
Viral and Bacterial Infections
Upper respiratory infections both viral and bacterial can cause different symptoms.
These include nasal congestion, runny nose, sore throat, etc.
Moreover, these symptoms can also reduce your sense of smell, thus, affecting your perception of taste.
Though you may feel like your taste buds are not working, in reality, they are as good without your sense of smell.
One of the reasons or conditions that can affect your taste buds is malnutrition.
It can cause a deficiency in certain important vitamins and minerals that are crucial for your taste buds to perform their function.
These vitamins and minerals are vitamin A, B12, zinc, and copper.
Nerves present along the pathway from your mouth to the brain are capable of the functions of taste buds and perception of flavor.
But any damage to these nerves can lead to changes in the taste buds. Some of the potential causes are:
Ear infection, ear surgery, dental procedures, surgical procedures, facial nerve dysfunction, or brain trauma.
Nervous system disorders can also affect the nerves of your mouth and brain.
However, some non-nervous disorders like cancer can also change your taste perception, especially during the treatment.
Thus, any medical condition that affects your brain, nose, mouth, or throat can cause changes.
Other Factors affecting your Taste buds
Some other factors affecting your taste buds are:
Some medications can also change and alter your perception of taste.
The most common medications are angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors.
These are the medications that help to treat high blood pressure.
Thus, it often makes it hard for them to recognize certain chemicals.
Some other medications are antibiotics, antidepressants, antihistamines, antihypertensive, or anti-inflammatories.
Additionally, antipsychotics, antivirals, CNS medications, diuretics, muscle relaxants, and thyroid medications can also cause changes in your taste buds.
Smoking negatively affects them along with causing other harmful effects on your body.
Certain chemicals like carcinogens and alkaloids can change the tongue receptors thus, causing changes in your taste buds.
As you grow old, the taste buds will not only diminish, however, will also change in function.
The number of taste buds will also decrease as you move to middle age and can also decrease in size and sensitivity.
Therefore, it can make it hard for you to perceive taste.
Thus, the loss of smell that occurs as you age, can lead to a decrease in the sense of taste.
Repairing your Taste Buds
Other than illnesses, aging, or other causes can change your taste perception, however, it remains constant,
It is important to note that adult taste bud regeneration is more frequent both on a cellular level and functional level.
Let’s learn about changes in your taste buds.
According to animal research, taste buds turnover every 10 days, themselves.
Extensive studies further suggest that almost 20% of the cells inside the tastebuds turnover every day.
A sudden change in them or sudden loss of taste can also be attributed to an underlying medical condition.
Some of these are common cold, sinus infection, ear infection, ear injury, throat infection, upper airway infection, gum diseases, etc.
However, most causes of a sudden loss of taste are not serious, These include upper respiratory infection, common cold, etc.
Thus, you can easily treat them at home, but in some cases, certain viral or bacterial infections can overwhelm your immune system and causing trouble eating, drinking, or breathing.
Therefore, you should seek immediate medical attention.
Repairing your Taste buds
In case the cause of damage to your taste buds is due to an underlying medical condition, you can repair them by treating the condition.
You can treat bacterial infections with the help of antibiotics, however, viral infections tend to go away with enough rest.
It is important to keep in mind that for a serious medical condition that causes long-term nerve damage, treatment can not help restore their functions.
Moreover, your recovery depends on the extent of nerve damage and the ability of your body to restore it.
If the medication you take is causing changes, then your doctor can help to adjust or change them to alleviate this side effect.
Visiting a Doctor
In case of a sudden loss of taste, if you experience other symptoms of a serious medical condition, it is crucial to visit your doctor.
These include a head injury, stroke, or other nervous disorders.
They can assess your medical history and can also order additional diagnostic tests to determine the underlying medical conditions.
Thus, in such a case, they will advise you on a treatment plan to treat the underlying medical condition.
As you age or due to certain medical conditions, you can experience changes in them. Viral and bacterial infections of the upper respiratory system often cause such changes, however, with prescription medications you can treat them.
However, in case of serious medical disorders, you should seek medical attention, and if the changes to them are sudden, then visiting your doctor for further testing can help identify the causes and devise a treatment plan early on.