Updated on February 23, 2024
5 min read

Inflamed Taste Buds – Causes, Symptoms & Treatments

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Swollen and Inflamed Taste Buds

A healthy tongue is covered in taste buds. Each taste bud contains 50 to 100 sensory cells that help distinguish between nutritious food and potentially poisonous substances.1 When taste buds swell or become inflamed, pain and sensitivity can result that affect your quality of life. 

Healthy tongue anatomy

Inflamed taste buds are common. They can result from eating spicy foods, conditions like dry mouth, and even stress. Transient lingual papillitis, the medical term for inflamed or enlarged papillae (taste buds), affects more than half the population at some point.3 

Taste buds are constantly regenerating. You get new taste buds every 8 to 12 days.4 Therefore, swollen taste buds are typically only a temporary, minor concern.

Most of the time, a swollen taste bud goes away on its own. But if painful taste buds make it difficult to eat or drink, treatment is available.

When Should You See a Doctor?

Your taste buds regenerate every couple of weeks, so most swollen taste buds resolve quickly. You probably don’t need to see your healthcare provider unless:

  • You have spots on your tongue that last more than 2 weeks
  • Your tongue pain and sensitivity negatively affect your quality of life

Taste bud dysfunction can make eating food unenjoyable or even painful. Call your doctor if you’re experiencing unwanted weight loss or malnutrition due to swollen taste buds.

Diagnosing Taste Bud Swelling

Your doctor can diagnose swollen taste buds by examining your mouth and reviewing your symptoms and medical history. They may also take lab tests to check for an infection, vitamin deficiency, or allergic reaction.

Depending on your needs, your primary care provider may refer you to an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialist, also called an otolaryngologist. They may take a biopsy for lab testing if they suspect oral cancer.

How to Get Rid of Inflamed Taste Buds

Treatment for swollen taste buds depends on the severity of the condition and the underlying cause:

Easing Symptoms at Home

In many cases, you can treat swollen taste buds at home. Methods that may help ease your symptoms include:

  • Swish warm salt water in your mouth twice a day
  • Eat cool, soft, and bland foods
  • Put an ice cube on your tongue and let it melt
  • Try mentholated, sugar-free candies to clear a stuffy nose (to avoid mouth breathing)

Professional Treatments

Professional treatments focus on treating the underlying condition that’s making your taste buds swell. 

These treatments can differ depending on the cause of the swollen taste buds and may include:

  • Taking antibiotics to fight a bacterial infection
  • Avoiding foods and substances that trigger allergies
  • Taking vitamin or mineral supplements if you have a deficiency
  • Taking anti-reflux medications for acid reflux
  • Avoiding foods that exacerbate reflux
  • Using artificial saliva mouth sprays to treat dry mouth

Prevention

Swollen taste buds aren’t always preventable. Here are some things you can do to reduce your risk:

  • Practice good oral hygiene by brushing twice a day and flossing once a day
  • Visit your dentist regularly for routine exams and cleanings
  • Quit smoking
  • Avoid spicy or acidic foods

Outlook

Taste bud swelling usually resolves within a few days. Some people experience inflammation for a week or more.

Any symptoms that persist longer than two weeks may indicate an underlying condition that requires treatment.

11 Potential Causes of Inflamed Taste Buds

Swollen taste buds have many possible causes; some are more serious than others. Some causes of inflamed taste buds include: 

1. Burning Your Mouth

Nearly everyone has had the unpleasant experience of burning their tongue on hot food or drink. Burning your tongue can result in swollen taste buds. Make sure to let foods and beverages cool down before consuming them.

2. Eating Certain Foods

High temperature isn’t the only way food can inflame the tissues in your mouth. Eating spicy or acidic foods can also irritate your tongue. 

Common examples include:

  • Hot peppers
  • Citrus fruits
  • Spicy or sour candies

3. Poor Oral Hygiene

If you don’t brush and floss daily, bacteria, and plaque accumulate on your teeth. This can lead to various oral health problems, including inflamed, enlarged taste buds.

4. Dry Mouth

Also known as xerostomia, dry mouth is a common cause of tongue swelling. If your salivary glands don’t produce enough saliva, it can lead to:

  • Tooth decay
  • Gum disease
  • Inflammation in the mouth

Staying hydrated is a key part of avoiding dry mouth. It’s also important to breathe through your nose instead of your mouth.

5. Irritation from Dental Appliances or Teeth

Dental appliances with points or sharp edges can rub against your tongue, causing inflammation and swelling. Common examples include braces, dentures, and a sharp tooth. 

6. Allergies and Food Sensitivities

Certain foods, medications, and other substances can trigger an allergic reaction when they contact your tongue. The allergic reaction may appear as a swollen tongue or enlarged taste buds.

7. Infection

Swollen taste buds may be a sign of certain bacterial or viral infections. Scarlet fever, which occurs in some people with strep throat, can cause a red, swollen tongue. 

8. Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)

GERD, or chronic acid reflux, is when stomach acid rises from your stomach into your esophagus. Sometimes, the acid gets into your mouth, burning your throat and tongue.

9. Smoking

Cigarettes contain chemicals that irritate the tissues in your mouth, and irritation causes swollen taste buds. Smoking can also make your taste buds less sensitive. This can reduce the joy you experience from eating your favorite foods.

10. Oral Cancer

Rarely, swollen taste buds can be a sign of oral cancer. Typically, cancer will cause a bleeding ulcer or lump on the tongue, usually on the sides of the tongue or the floor of the mouth. Oral cancer is more common in heavy drinkers and smokers.

11. Vitamin Deficiencies

Insufficient amounts of certain nutrients, such as iron and vitamin B, can make your tongue swell.

Other Symptoms of Inflamed Taste Buds

Swollen taste buds usually appear as bright red or white bumps on the tongue. Other symptoms may include:

  • Fluid-filled blisters
  • Soreness or tenderness
  • A burning sensation

Listen In Q&A Format

Inflamed Taste Buds – Causes, Symptoms & Treatments
NewMouth Podcast

Summary

It’s very common to have a swollen taste bud. More than half the population experiences temporary taste bud swelling (transient lingual papillitis) at some point.

Many things can cause swollen taste buds, including poor dental hygiene and irritation from smoking, spicy or acidic foods, and stomach acid. The swelling usually goes away within a few days to a week.

Call your doctor if swollen or painful taste buds last more than two weeks or interfere with your quality of life.

Last updated on February 23, 2024
6 Sources Cited
Last updated on February 23, 2024
All NewMouth content is medically reviewed and fact-checked by a licensed dentist or orthodontist to ensure the information is factual, current, and relevant.

We have strict sourcing guidelines and only cite from current scientific research, such as scholarly articles, dentistry textbooks, government agencies, and medical journals. This also includes information provided by the American Dental Association (ADA), the American Association of Orthodontics (AAO), and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
  1. Sarkar, AA, et al. “Cyclophospamide-Induced Inflammation of Taste Buds and Cytoprotection by Amifostine.” Chemical Senses, 2021.
  2. Gaillard, D, and Barlow, LA. “A Mechanistic Overview of Taste Bud Maintenance and Impairment in Cancer Therapies.” Chemical Senses, 2021.
  3. Raji, K, et al. “Goodness, gracious, great balls of fire: A case of transient lingual papillitis following consumption of an Atomic Fireball.” Dermatology Online Journal, 2016.
  4. Feng, P, et al. “Taste Bud Homeostasis in Health, Disease, and Aging.” Chemical Senses, 2014.
  5. Kalogirou, EM, et al. “Transient lingual papillitis: A retrospective study of 11 cases and review of the literature.” Journal of Clinical and Experimental Dentistry, 2017.
  6. Examination of the Tongue.” Stanford Medicine, nd.Signs and Symptoms of Oral Cavity and Oropharyngeal Cancer.” American Cancer Society, 2021.
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