Here’s a riddle: Name someone or something who will never leave you, is right there hanging on every word you say, and who knows your taste 100 percent. Give up? It sounds like your best bud, right? Well if that’s your answer you’re close: It’s your taste buds!
Taste buds are located inside the little red and white bumps called papillae that cover the tongue. Each papillae can have up to six taste buds inside, with the average person having anywhere between 2,000 and 10,000 taste buds in total. Each taste bud has between 10 and 50 sensory cells. Everyone has a different number of taste buds, too - and they’re not just on the tongue. Some people have them in their throat, esophagus, the roofs of their mouths, and on the sides of the mouth, too!
Taste buds are responsible for making the distinction between sweet, sour, savory, bitter and salty, but despite popular opinion, there are no "zones" on the tongue where certain taste buds taste certain flavors. Every taste bud is capable of tasting every flavor, no matter where it is located on the tongue.
Taste buds were initially used to keep us alive – meaning they served to warn early humans about food that was rotten or poisonous. Though there are no "zones" for tasting certain flavor types, the back or the tongue is said to be more sensitive to bitter foods as a last-ditch effort to stop us from swallowing dangerous food before it’s too late.
Here’s another weird fact: You don’t really taste with your mouth, you taste with your brain! Those taste buds send the message through your olfactory nerves via molecules of food, which in turn bind to the nerve endings in your nose. From there, your nose relays the message to your glossopharyngeal and facial nerves. They tell the gustatory cortex of the brain, "Hey, delicious chocolate chip cookies here." That’s why when you’re congested you can’t taste well - because the olfactory nerves can’t relay that flavor message to the nerves in the brain.
Want to learn more interesting facts about your oral health? Schedule an exam with Dr. Abelar at 858-256-4707.