What Are Filiform Papillae?

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Look closely at your tongue. See all those little tiny dots? The majority of those dots are called filiform papillae. These tiny little doorknob-like projections cover 2/3 of your tongue. They are also known as conical papillae, and serve to coat and protect the tongue and aid in chewing, speaking and cleansing the mouth.

Papillae of the Tongue

PubMed Health defines papillae as mucous membranes formed by cells bulging from underneath the tongue. Papillae are little bumps, and they make the tongue look rough. There are four types of papillae that co-exist on the surface of the tongue. These types include: filiform, fungiform, foliate and circumvallate. Each type of papillae formation serves a specific function, according to the University of Texas and PubMed Health.

  • Filiform. These little projections are the most common type of lingual papillae. They are small and round and do not contain taste buds.
  • Fungiform. These mushroom-shaped papillae contain taste buds and sensory cells and are located primarily at the tip of the tongue.
  • Foliate. These leaf-shaped papillae are located on the side borders of the tongue and also contain taste buds.
  • Circumvallate. These larger papillae are located on the back third of the tongue in a v-shape and also contain taste buds.

Filiform Papillae

While the other papillae aid in taste, the filiform serve as a coating mechanism for the tongue. These papillae create a rough, abrasive texture that assists in cleansing the mouth and aiding in chewing and speaking. These little bumps on the tongue act as grips or ripples.

The filiform papillae are conical in shape. In most mouths, these papillae wear at a consistent rate – similar to the skin on the rest of the body. When certain conditions exist, the papillae can wear at an uneven rate and appear slightly varied. One condition that may alter the patterns of filiform growth includes geographic tongue, according to a report in the West China Journal of Stomatology. Also known as benign migratory glossitis or erythema migrans, this condition occurs when certain areas of the tongue shed or grow papillae at an irregular rate. The exact cause of geographic tongue is unknown, although according to the American Academy of Oral Medicine (AAOM), certain oral habits, genetics and stress may play a role in the condition.

Cleaning the Filiform Papillae

It is very important to cleanse the tongue. As germs form on, around, and under the filiform, they can cause the papillae to elongate. This process creates a greater surface area for new germs to grow. Tobacco and certain foods can also stain these elongated papillae. Black hairy tongue, says the AAOM, is a condition that may occur if the papillae are allowed to overgrow and trap bacteria and food particles. Black hairy tongue may contribute to bad breath and bacterial overgrowth.

Don't neglect your tongue health! Brush it every time you brush your teeth. Consider brushing with a toothbrush like the Colgate 360° Advanced 4 Zone, which features an innovative cheek and tongue cleaner design.

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