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Mouth Diseases

Swollen taste buds

06/15/2007

Question:

I sometimes get a white bump on my tongue. I was told it was a swollen taste bud. What causes this and what kind of treatment can I do to relieve the soreness and make it heal faster? It can get painful at times.

Answer:

What you are describing sounds like transient lingual papillitis (TLP), better known as "lie bumps" on the tongue. TLP is a harmless, but annoying, problem. This condition is limited to the upper (dorsal) surface of the tongue, affecting some of the tiny bumps on the tongue known as the fungiform papillae.

Fungiform papillae are the normal little bumps on the top of the tongue that people call "taste buds." These bumps can become notably red or white and are quite tender for one to several days.

While the cause of TLP is not known with certainty, most experts feel that local accidental trauma (rubbing, scraping or biting) is a major factor; however, contact reactions to things like certain foods have also been suggested.

In the southern United States, these have sometimes been referred to as "lie bumps" - supposedly the person who gets one of these has recently told a lie, and this is their punishment!

Most people, when their tongue is irritated, can't seem to keep from rubbing it against the teeth to make it feel better (sort of like scratching an itch); however, this usually makes things worse.

Over-the-counter medications such as OraBase or Zilactin can be applied. These materials act like a bandage and help to protect the ulcerated surface of the fungiform papilla.

Lie bumps are not contagious and the discomfort is relatively minor. Typically these lesions heal within a few days with no treatment. If they do not, then you should be seen by an oral pathologist.

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Response by:

John R Kalmar, DMD, PhD John R Kalmar, DMD, PhD
Clinical Professor of Pathology
College of Dentistry
The Ohio State University