When you think about your five basic senses (sight, smell, sound, taste, and touch), many people are surprised to find out the ability to taste is as important to survival as the other senses. Taste helps humans choose safe food and avoid dangerous items that can hurt or impede biological maintenance. The driving factor behind the ability to taste? Taste buds!
To effectively care for your taste buds, it’s important to first understand what they are and how they work.
What are taste buds?
Taste buds are small sensory organs responsible for your sense of taste. These receptors are found on the surface of your tongue, throat, and the roof of your mouth. Within the tongue, taste buds are located inside tiny structures called papillae, typically measuring around one-thirtieth of a millimeter in diameter.
Your taste buds work to help identify flavors that are either sweet, sour, salty, bitter, savory, or a combination of those. Your taste buds’ ability to perceive these different combinations is what makes flavors more complex.
How do taste buds work?
Taste buds are composed of 50 to 150 taste receptor cells. When you take that first bite of your after-dinner ice cream or a sip of your morning coffee, these taste receptor cells are activated. From there, taste buds play the role of a messenger, carrying a signal from the tongue to the brain using special chemicals called neurotransmitters.
However, taste is a multisensory experience. Your taste buds collaborate with other sensory systems, such as your olfactory system to perceive flavor. This means your sense of taste works with your sense of smell, and the combined information is sent to a specific region in your brain known as the orbitofrontal cortex, situated in the frontal lobe, where the true sensation of taste is interpreted.
How to care for your taste buds
Did you know your body can regenerate taste buds? In fact, it develops replacement taste buds about every 10 days. So it’s easy to keep them healthy.
To protect your taste buds from permanent damage, consider these practices:
- Avoid tobacco products
- Drink less alcohol
- Avoid direct contact with hot or frozen foods
- Practice good oral hygiene habits
The importance of oral health and taste buds
Maintaining proper oral health is an important step in caring for your taste buds. Brushing twice a day and flossing once a day keeps your mouth happy, and it can also help prevent swollen taste buds. Using an ADA-approved tongue scraper is an additional way you can remove bacteria from the tongue, which may help improve taste by creating a fresh palette.
For more information about the importance of your tongue, read “Tongue and Overall Health: Reasons to Stick Your Tongue Out”.