Occasionally I get asked, “What’s this bump on my tongue?”  A patient will typically point to the back surface of their tongue where they have observed raised bumps while brushing.  Thankfully in most cases, a row of raised bumps on the back of the tongue is nothing to worry about.  They are a cluster of taste buds called circumvallate papillae.

We can thank our taste buds for letting us appreciate our favorite foods.  For me, it’s the saltiness of potato chips and the sweetness of Hudsonville ice cream.  The average person has 10,000 taste buds.  Taste buds are sensory organs that allow us to experience tastes that are sweet, salty, sour, and bitter.

Stick out your tongue and look in a mirror.  See all those bumps?  Those are called papillae, and they contain taste buds.  Taste buds have very sensitive microscopic hairs.  Those tiny hairs send messages to the brain about how something tastes, so you know if it’s sweet, sour, bitter, or salty.  Circumvallate papillae are found in a “v” shaped row on the back of your tongue and are most sensitive to bitter tastes.  Folliate papillae appear on the back of the tongue and at the edges and are most sensitive to sour tastes.  Filliform papillae are found in the center and front of the tongue. Fungiform papillae are the small red spots that appear all over the tongue.

So the next time you chomp on a chip or slurp up some Hudsonville ice cream, thank your tongue!  They give life flavor.

Fun Facts:

  1. The tongue is 3 inches long
  2. The tongue is NOT the strongest muscle in the body
  3. The tongue muscles are the only muscles in the body to work independently of the skeleton and have remarkable stamina
  4. Your tongue can gain weight if you gain weight
  5. You have taste buds other places besides your tongue
  6. Your tongue print is as unique as a finger print

Your tongue can also say a lot about your health.  Your tongue can actually provide clues about your overall health.

  • A bright red tongue may be a sign of folic acid or B12 deficiency, scarlet fever, or Kawasaki disease (a serious condition seen in children)
  • White spots or a white coating on the tongue could indicate oral thrush (a type of yeast infection), or leukoplakia (which can be a precursor to cancer)
  • A black, hairy tongue can be a sign of bacterial overgrowth, and can also occur in people with diabetes or those on antibiotics or chemotherapy
  • Painful bumps on the tongue may be canker sores, or oral cancer

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