What Enlarged Papillae May Mean
A case of enlarged papillae usually doesn't indicate anything particularly serious. If you're not certain as to quite what that means, just substitute the words "taste buds" for papillae, though not all papillae contain taste buds. Papillae are tiny natural growths on the surface of the tongue, and there are several different kinds of them. Sometimes these papillae can become larger than would appear to be normal. These enlarged papillae often just occur naturally with age. At other times, there may be some other underlying cause. Most of the time we don't pay much attention to what's happening with our tongue, unless we bite it, get a sore on it, or get a yeast infection. As far as the papillae are concerned, we live most of our life seldom giving them a second thought, even though we rely on them for our sense of taste.
Enlargement May Be Due To Trauma - Smoking, scalding the tongue, even grinding the teeth, can result in injury and possible swelling or infection of one or more of the papillae, resulting in a bump on the tongue, or several enlarged papillae, which may be quite sore. When one takes into account that the typical tongue contains several thousand papillae, it seems a bit amazing that we don't have one or more of them causing a problem fairly often. The fact that these problems are somewhat uncommon, probably leads to our often exaggerated concern when one or more of the little buds does become enlarged.
Sometimes a number of papillae will become enlarged, growing longer than normal. Bacteria will sometimes grow on those papillae which are protruding from the surface of the tongue, giving the appearance of black hair growing on the tongue. This can not only be unattractive, but can be downright scary. The condition is however completely harmless. It is most apt to occur in people who do not practice proper dental hygiene and is easily cured.
The Taste Buds - The two types of papillae most commonly associated with our taste buds are fungiform papillae and foliate papillae. Fungiform papillae have nothing to do with fungus or yeast, but are given the name because their shape resembles that of mushrooms. These two types of papillae have nerve endings which send messages to our brain telling it whether the food we are eating is salty, sweet, bitter, or sour, or some combination of those four basic tastes. Some who specialize in matters of the tongue and taste will tell you that there is a fifth basic taste, that being savory, but it can be a little hard to define, or segregate from the other four basic tastes. Savory is in fact more closely related to our sense of smell.
Another type of papillae, located at the back of the tongue are called circumvallate papillae and these are responsible for sensing bitter or sour tastes in the back of the mouth. The circumvallate papillae are somewhat large to begin with, and can occasionally become even more so, and a cause for some alarm. This condition is not generally an abnormal one however. In most instances, enlarged papillae do not noticeably affect our sense of taste, or cause other problems.
Causes Difficult To Pinpoint - What can cause enlarged papillae? We've mentioned that sometimes papillae grow larger or longer for no apparent reason. But they can also grow due to damage. Growth in this case is not to be confused with a malignant growth, but rather the response of the papillae to trauma of one kind or another. Smoking is one of the causes, and some systemic diseases are thought to also encourage enlargement of papillae, though this has yet to be proven. Unless the papillae become so enlarged that they have a tendency to collect bacteria, and a subsequent “hairy growth”, there is not much that can be done, or needs to be.