Food. It’s one of life’s best necessities. It’s fun to prepare, it’s great to eat, and the flavors are what makes it enjoyable and exciting. At my dental office in Sacramento, we’re huge fans of food, but there’s one thing that bothers us a little bit. Remember when you learned about the tongue map and how different areas of the tongue tasted different flavors? Well, we’re about to blow your mind.
Just to refresh the memory, the tongue map was taught in elementary school, and it explained that bitter flavors were tasted on the back, sour and salty on the sides, and sweet on the front. While we agree it was a great way to roughly explain how taste works, we’d like to set the record straight.
The Tongue Truth
Although the explanation is bit more in depth than the tongue map, the taste bud truth is well worth knowing. The tongue is an amazing muscle and serves multiple purposes including helping us swallow, speak, and of course, taste. If you stick out your tongue, and we encourage it, you’ll notice a bunch of little bumps all over. Those are often believed to be your taste buds. They’re not. Well, not exactly.
Those various shaped bumps are actually called papillae, and there are several kinds on different areas of the tongue. Taste buds are much smaller and are hosted within some types of papillae. But not all papillae have taste buds and the ability to taste. This is why we technically can’t experience taste on all areas of the tongue and where we believe the idea for the tongue map came from.
The center of the tongue is packed with small, fuzzy-like papillae that are called the filiform. Unfortunately, these papillae don’t contain any taste buds at all.
The Sides & Front
Looking out from the middle of the tongue, you’ll find little round dots. These are the fungiform and each one of those tiny bumps is home to about 3-5 tastebuds.
The back of the tongue is where it’s at when comes to experiencing taste. There are two types of papillae on this area — the foliate and the circumvallate. The foliate are found on the back sides of the tongue and look like ridges while the circumvallate go from side to side on the back of the tongue. Each one of these papillae contain over 100 tastebuds each! That’s a lot of flavor!
In total, your tongue has about 10,000 taste buds, all of which can taste at least five flavors — bitter, salty, sweet, sour, savory. So next time you’re enjoying your favorite meal, just remember, most of these taste buds are near the back of the mouth. Take a bite, let it linger, enjoy. And if you feel so inclined, share a bit with all of us at my Sacramento dental office.
Serving patients from Sacramento, Natomas, Rio Linda, and neighboring communities.