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Circumvallate Papillae: Tastebuds, Function, and Complications

Published date field Last Updated:

Medically Reviewed By Colgate Global Scientific Communications

It might impress you to know that your mouth has over 6,000 taste buds, according to the American Psychological Association. What are circumvallate papillae, and what do they have to do with your taste buds? Where can you find yours? After reading this article, you'll have answers to everything you wanted to know about your circumvallate papillae (and probably more!).

Circumvallate Papillae: What You Should Know

Your tongue is a vital part of your biology that assists in eating, speaking, and tasting. You can thank taste buds for your sense of taste, which are found in the papillae on top of your tongue. Your mouth contains four different types of papillae that appear as small raised bumps on your tongue.

Your four types of papillae include:

  • Circumvallate papillae: Also known as vallate papillae, 7-11 of these are located on the backside of your tongue, containing over 100 taste buds each.
  • Fungiform papillae: Over 200 are found on the front side of your tongue and contain 3-5 taste buds each.
  • Foliate papillae: 10-14 are positioned on the side of your tongue in the creases that contain over 100 taste buds each.
  • Filiform papillae: Cover most of the top of your tongue and contain tactile receptors but no taste buds.

Your taste buds can detect five distinct tastes, including sweet, sour, bitter, salty, and umami. What is the function of your circumvallate papillae? They’re especially sensitive to bitter taste and are involved in your gag reflex. Associated salivary glands release saliva (spit) and help regulate your circumvallate papillae.

Examination and Complications

As you’re unlikely to spend much of your time thinking about your taste buds or observing the back of your tongue when you’re feeling well, you may first notice your papillae when sick.

Their appearance may be striking and cause concern in some, even when they’re completely normal and healthy. It can be a challenge to get a good view of them due to their location on the back of your tongue towards your throat.

Inflammation or Swelling

Your papillae may swell due to various causes. It’s important to schedule an appointment with your dental or medical professional. They can help assess your papillae to ensure that it’s benign (harmless) and that you receive proper treatment.

Swollen papillae may be caused by:

  • Infection
  • Other health conditions
  • Allergies or irritants like spicy food
  • Burned tongue from hot food or drink
  • Smoking, tobacco products, or illegal drugs
  • Vitamin deficiency
  • Anxiety

Taste Disorders

Taste disorders can lead to a loss of taste, a change in the way food and drinks taste, or a persistent sense of bad taste. These conditions have a wide range of causes, and diagnosis will depend on your individual medical history, medications, and other health conditions.

Causes of changes to your sense of taste may include:

  • Improper dental hygiene
  • Medications (prescription and over-the-counter) and illegal drugs
  • Infection
  • Pregnancy
  • Neurological disorders
  • Exposure to chemicals
  • Other medical conditions

Rest assured that problems with taste are typically benign (harmless) unless you have other health conditions. We recommend scheduling an appointment with your dental or medical professional for specialized diagnosis and treatment.

Tongue Care

Your tongue is essential to everyday tasks like talking and eating, so it’s a good idea to attend to its health properly. Small steps can make a big difference, like avoiding harmful behaviors, practicing proper oral hygiene, and regularly visiting your dental and medical professionals.

Tips on how to care for your tongue and taste buds include:

  • Avoid smoking, tobacco products, and illegal drugs
  • Wash your tongue using a tongue cleaner or soft-bristled toothbrush
  • Brush your teeth for two minutes twice daily
  • Clean between your teeth once daily using floss or an interdental brush
  • Schedule visits with your dental professional at least every 6 months and medical professional at least once a year
  • Ensure that you’re taking the correct dosage of your medications and check in with your medical professional if you experience persistent changes to your taste

These unique biological structures help provide you with one of your five senses (and many peoples' favorite one!). While they sometimes can become inflamed or contribute to taste disorders, you can take powerful steps to prevent these problems from occurring in the first place. You've done a great job informing yourself on circumvallate papillae and their function.

Oral Care Center articles are reviewed by an oral health medical professional. This information is for educational purposes only. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist, physician or other qualified healthcare provider. 

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