The tongue is covered in hundreds of tiny bumps called papillae. There are four types of papillae — filiform, fungiform, circumvallate and foliate — and each has a role to play. The filiform papillae cover two-thirds of the tongue, and they help you chew and talk. The fungiform papillae located at the tip of the tongue contain taste buds. The back third of the tongue is home to the larger circumvallate papillae that also contain taste buds. The fourth type of papillae, the foliate papillae, are located on the sides of the tongue.
The Foliate Papillae
If you look closely at your tongue, you can see your foliate papillae. They appear as a rough surface on the sides of the back part of the tongue, explains the textbook Anatomy of Orofacial Structures: A Comprehensive Approach.
These papillae contain 1,300 taste buds, reports Cummings Otolaryngology - Head and Neck Surgery. This is a significant percentage of your total taste buds, since there are approximately 7,900 taste receptors in the entire mouth.
Conditions That Affect the Tongue
Since the foliate papillae are located on the sides of the tongue, they can become injured fairly easily. Some people may accidentally bite down on the sides of their tongues while they're eating. Other people may injure their tongues while playing contact sports. The mouth has a rich blood supply, so tongue injuries may bleed a lot, warns Stanford Children's Health.
These papillae can also be burned by hot foods or drinks like pizza or coffee. Tongue burns will heal over time, and sipping cold water can help ease the pain in the meantime. If it feels like you've burned off your taste buds, rest assured that taste buds regenerate, according to a review published by the Journal of Indian Academy of Oral Medicine and Radiology. In fact, it's totally natural for your taste buds to regrow. The researchers concluded that taste buds have a half-life of 10 to 15 days.
Another condition that may affect your papillae, including the foliate papillae, is black hairy tongue. Black hairy tongue looks just like the name suggests. The Mayo Clinic explains that a black hairy tongue occurs when the papillae are longer than usual, so they catch food debris, bacteria and dead skin cells. While the condition is not harmful to your health, it is unsightly and may cause bad breath and alter your sense of taste.
Anatomy of Orofacial Structures warns that oral cancer can develop near these papillae, and it may be difficult to detect due to the folds of tissue in the area. Your dentist can examine the papillae and the rest of the tongue during a thorough oral cancer screening.
Caring for the Tongue
Wearing an appropriate mouth guard during contact sports and other high-risk activities can help prevent injuries to the foliate papillae and other parts of the tongue. Eating slowly and being mindful of the tongue's location in the mouth can help prevent accidents at mealtimes.
To keep your tongue healthy, remember to brush it every time you brush your teeth. Germs and food particles can accumulate on the tongue. With a small amount of toothpaste and your toothbrush, gently brush the surface of your tongue to scrub away this debris. Afterward, rinse with water.
In addition, remember to see your dentist regularly. Regular dental visits aren't just important for the health of your teeth and gums — they're important for the health of your tongue, too. A dentist can examine your tongue for signs of oral cancer or other health conditions.