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Mouth Diseases

Taste Buds

01/12/2010

Question:

Hi,

For several days now I have had very little taste buds. I believe I may have done this to myself by eating to much hot sauce with several snacks over a 3 day period of time with friends. I went through almost 2 bottles of hot sauce myself. Even though I dranked a lot of water, today my tounge feels like sandpaper and my taste buds are very low for everything I eat. Everything taste like unsalted crackers... everything. I have scheduled a doctors appointment but is there anything I can do from home to repair this problem?

Answer:

To clarify you concerns, you still have taste buds you just fried them! You consumed two bottles of hot sauce? Are you crazy? As you probably know or do by now, hot sauces come in many levels of “heat” or Scoville Units, from mild to Atomic Bomb in nature. Habanero is one of the hotter peppers and concentrated oils can produce levels in the millions of units. Rather than give you a lecture on Capsaicin (the chemical involved with producing the heat in these fruits) I will try to stay focused and briefly explain what insult you did to your mouth and tongue. As mentioned, you still have taste buds but have temporarily altered their function. Rest assured the ability to taste food will return but it will take time.

If this problem occurred as the taste buds were developing, then you would most likely have ruined them for good, but in your case, it will return in time. How long is a good question, weeks to months and it may be gradual.

The chemical that is associated with the “heat” perception, as mentioned is capsaicin. Casaicin is a capsaicinoid found in chili peppers and is a member of the vanilloid family. The compound produces burning and painful sensations because of chemical reactions with sensory nerve receptors (vanilloid receptor subtype 1) or VR1 receptor. The capsaicin molecule binds to the VR1 receptor and produces the same response that heat or abrasive injury would produce. (Think what the sensation of burning yourself on the stove or oven rack or getting a road/floor burn!)

The VR1 ion channel receptor is a member of a much larger ion channel family know as the TRP (Transient Receptor Potential Channel family) and thus the VR1 channel is collectively know as the TRPV1 channel. TRP channels are non-select and can respond to a wide variety of stimuli. The TRPV1 receptors are expressed in afferent nociceptors (pain sensing neurons) and act as transducers for chemical and thermal pain stimuli. Thus, hot sauce does not actually cause a chemical burn or occult tissue damage, but messes with the sensory input so you think you have fried your tongue.

Acute treatment for capsaicin insult is immediate removal of the agent and or rinsing with cold milk or sugar water or some type of oil based compound (olive oil or vegetable oil) and palliative treatment of the symptoms such as ice. Water will not work and in your case, you need time for the taste buds to repair.

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Response by:

Richard J Jurevic, DDS, PhD Richard J Jurevic, DDS, PhD
Formerly, Assistant Professor of Biological Sciences
School of Dental Medicine
Case Western Reserve University