Sweet candies, sour citrus, savory steak, bitter dark chocolate, salty pickles…taste is one of our most important senses. The flavors of food and drink are part of what makes life fun. Our ability to taste them comes, in large part, from our tongues. At Dr. Cindy Flanagan’s Houston dental practice, we’re committed to educating patients about their oral health while enhancing their smiles. One of the most interesting facets of the mouth are the tongue’s taste buds, these are important receptors that help us enjoy flavor. In this week’s blog, Dr. Flanagan describes the different types of taste buds and explains how to keep yours healthy.
What Are Taste Buds?
Your taste buds are the foundation of every flavor you experience. Essentially, these are tiny biological structures that sit among the tongue’s papillae, or the tiny, rounded parts of the tongue. As PubMed Health explains: “taste buds are the true taste organ. They have numerous sensory cells that are in turn connected to many different nerve fibers.” In this way, the taste buds are the means by which your body can process and interpret flavors. As it turns out, that’s a lot of information to transmit! PubMed Health notes: “adults have between 2,000 and 4,000 taste buds in total. The sensory taste buds are renewed once a week.” Your body is constantly producing new taste bud cells to keep this sensation alive. When you stop to look at the science of taste, this sensation seems particularly extraordinary. Thousands of cells work hard to help you enjoy your favorite treats.
The Five Flavors
Of course, one of the most amazing aspects of taste is that it’s so varied. Imagine how dull and dreary life might be if most foods tasted the same or similar! Building on the basic information provided by PubMed Health, Act for Libraries goes into even further detail about the taste buds and their types. According to this publication, taste buds contain “chemoreceptors…microscopic, hair-like nerve endings, called microvilli.” It is on this tiniest level of taste that your body distinguishes between the five different flavor types: “the chemoreceptors of the human tongue can detect five types of molecules: ions, acidic compounds, sugars and sugar-like molecules, glutamate/glutamic acid, and those that activate dedicated bitter receptors.”
In simpler terms, “these molecules correspond to the four traditional taste senses (salty, sweet, sour, and bitter), as well as a fifth, called savory (or umami).” While we often talk about “types” of taste buds, it’s not so much that your taste buds are different, but that their microscopic components respond differently to these five types of substances. It’s fortunate that they do, since this allows us to enjoy each and every flavor we consume.
Taking Care of Your Taste Buds
Your thousands of taste buds regenerate every week and contain microscopic nerves that allow you to perceive flavors. They do a lot for your quality of life, so it makes sense to maintain them appropriately. Brushing and flossing on a daily basis preserves your papillae, (where your taste buds reside) preventing bacterial infections that could damage them. For additional upkeep, you can also brush your tongue, helping to remove particulate matter, debris, and bacteria that might accumulate and potentially damage the papillae.
You can also take good care of your taste buds by staying hydrated and preventing dry mouth. As a recent piece in Registered Dental Hygienist magazine points out: “saliva plays a huge role in taste since the flavors are carried to all parts of the mouth. Saliva acts not only as a lubricant, but also as a dissolvent as it dilutes strong concentrations. The taste sensation is not recognized until it is mixed with certain chemicals when dissolved in saliva and then detected by the receptors in taste buds.” If you do suffer from dry mouth, then, your ability to taste could be diminished. Fortunately, Dr. Flanagan and our team can help you treat this condition.
Do You Want to Learn More About Your Mouth?
Are you interested in learning more about your taste buds, tongue, or any other component of your oral health? Dr. Flanagan and our team would be delighted to teach you more at your next preventive care appointment. Contact our Houston dental practice today to schedule your visit!