What Causes Swollen Taste Buds?

Instructor: Adrianne Baron

Adrianne has taught high school and college biology and has a master's degree in cancer biology.

This lesson is going to cover the most common causes associated with swollen taste buds. We will touch on how the taste buds become swollen from each cause.

Swollen Taste Buds

Go in front of the mirror. Now open wide and say ahhhh! Do you see your little friends all over your tongue? Sure you do, because you see your taste buds. These are the papillae on the surface of your tongue that allow you to taste your favorite foods. They are a huge reason why you enjoy eating.

Swollen taste buds
Picture of tongue with swollen taste buds

Well, that's the case when they are healthy. There are times when the taste buds may not be in the best condition because they are swollen or inflamed. I bet you have had swollen taste buds at some point in time in your life. What you may not immediately know is what caused your taste buds to become swollen. There are many reasons why this can occur. Here are some possible causes of swollen taste buds.

Physical Causes

Hot drinks can cause swollen taste buds
Picture of a hot drink

Some of the most common causes of swollen taste buds are physical causes that usually aren't very serious. Drinking or eating hot foods or drinks is probably the number one cause of swollen taste buds. The heat from the hot food or drink burns and causes the taste buds to become inflamed.

Another common cause happens when people are actually trying to do something good to take care of their mouths. Brushing the tongue is a good hygiene practice, but harsh tongue brushing can cause the taste buds to become swollen. Rather than taking care of your taste buds, it ends up being more like you are roughing them up!

Other physical causes of swollen taste buds are cuts, biting the tongue, and other injuries to the tongue. I am sure you have had that unpleasant experience of thoroughly enjoying your meal and then biting your tongue while you are chewing. It sent pain waves everywhere and your tongue was swollen afterwards.

Chemical Causes

There are also some chemical causes of swollen taste buds. Eating food that contains a chemical to which a person is allergic can cause the taste buds to become inflamed and swollen as part of the allergic reaction. This reaction can also happen due to allergens in the air making their way into the mouth.

Strong mouthwash is a chemical that can cause swollen taste buds
Picture of mouthwash

I know another cause of swollen taste buds that you have probably experienced at some point in time. Really strong mouthwash! You know the kind that made your eyes watery and your nose run. It also made your tongue swollen, especially if you decided to be brave and use it for a minute or more.

A diet that doesn't contain enough vitamins could cause the tongue to become swollen. This is because vitamins are important in maintaining oral health. The lack of vitamins causes oral health to deteriorate and the tongue can become infected and inflamed.

Using certain chemicals like tobacco and alcohol can cause tongue irritation which leads to a swollen tongue as well. This applies whether you chew, smoke, or drink the substance. Tobacco use can cause so much damage to the taste buds that they lose the ability to let you know how food and drinks taste.

Patients could sometimes end up with a swollen tongue as a result of vomiting or having acid reflux. Keep in mind that acid reflux is when stomach acid moves up the digestive tract instead of remaining in the stomach, or the lower part of the digestive tract. Vomiting brings food from the stomach back up and out through the mouth. The acid that breaks down the foods that we eat is a very strong acid that irritates the taste buds and the rest of the tongue if it makes it back into the mouth. The taste buds will often swell after being exposed to acid.

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