Taste Buds – how important are they to our overall health?

Were you ever so hungry that you dive right into a piping hot, steaming pizza even though you know it might burn you. Of course you have, we all have. That delicious pizza, or pivotal first cup of morning coffee is just too tempting to resist. But do these burns that we sustain in our mouths have any lasting effects?

The answer is maybe. Taste buds “recycle” about every two weeks, so any taste buds you damage might result in long term damage, but it is unlikely because those damaged buds will probably recycle anyways. As you get older some of your taste buds stop “recycling” so younger children often have stronger taste sensation than adults. The recycling (or failure to recycle) of taste buds is what causes the change in taste that you may experience over the course of your life. The most common things that affect your sense of taste are: smoking and tobacco use, really hot foods and liquids, freezing cold foods, and cuts in your mouth.

If your sense of taste changes drastically – particularly by way of losing much of your sense of taste – than it is possible that you may have developed what is called a taste disorder. Many people who have a taste disorder are actually just experiencing problems with their sense of smell which is very closely related to taste. If you think you or someone you know may have a taste disorder, proper oral hygiene is important to regaining and maintaining a well-functioning sense of taste.

So what are some taste disorders? Here is a brief list of the most common:

Phantom Taste Perception – that is, a lingering, often unpleasant taste even though you have nothing in your mouth.

Hypogeusia – a reduced ability to taste sweet, sour, bitter, salty, and savory foods

Ageusia – the inability to detect any tastes at all. True taste loss, however, is rare. Most often, people are experiencing a loss of smell instead of a loss of taste.

Dysgeusia – a condition in which a foul, salty, rancid, or metallic taste sensation will persist in the mouth. Dysgeusia is sometimes accompanied by burning mouth syndrome, a condition in which a person experiences a painful burning sensation in the mouth. Although it can affect anyone, burning mouth syndrome is most common in middle-aged and older women.


What causes taste disorders?

Some people are born with taste disorders, but most develop them after an injury or illness. Among the causes of taste problems are:

  • Upper respiratory and middle ear infections
  • Radiation therapy for cancers of the head and neck
  • Exposure to certain chemicals, such as insecticides and some medications, including some common antibiotics and antihistamines
  • Head injury
  • Some surgeries to the ear, nose, and throat (e.g., third molar—wisdom tooth—extraction and middle ear surgery)
  • Poor oral hygiene and dental problems

Are taste disorders serious?

They can be. Taste disorder themselves don’t pose the problem, but they certainly pose some concerns. Because taste is the main sense that we use to detect spoiled or rotten food, those with weakened or non-existent senses of taste are at a much greater risk of eating something that could harm them. The same holds true with individuals who have food allergies.

Additionally, a distorted sense of taste can be a risk factor for heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and other illnesses that require sticking to a specific diet. When taste is impaired, a person may change his or her eating habits and can cause people to either gain or lose weight. Taste disorders can also cause people to add large amounts of sugar or salt to their foods in an attempt to make it taste better – this poses a very specific and serious problem to those with certain medical conditions such as diabetes or high blood pressure.

In severe cases, loss of taste can lead to depression. Loss of taste and smell can also be a sign of certain degenerative diseases of the nervous system, such as Parkinson’s disease or Alzheimer’s disease. If you are experiencing a taste disorder, talk with your physician.

Can taste disorders be treated?

The good news is that many types of taste disorders are curable. For those that are not, counseling is available to help people adjust to their problem.

Get checked out by an otolaryngologist for proper diagnosis and cause of the specific disorder. Some people, notably those with respiratory infections or allergies, regain their sense of taste when these conditions are resolved. Often, the correction of a general medical problem also can correct the loss of taste. Occasionally, a person may recover his or her sense of taste spontaneously. Proper oral hygiene is important to regaining and maintaining a well-functioning sense of taste.

If you lose some or all of your sense of taste, there are things you can do to make your food taste better:

  • · Prepare foods with a variety of colors and textures.
  • · Use aromatic herbs and hot spices to add more flavor; however, avoid adding more sugar or salt to foods.
  • · If your diet permits, add small amounts of cheese, bacon bits, butter, olive oil, or toasted nuts on vegetables.
  • · Avoid combination dishes, such as casseroles, that can hide individual flavors and dilute taste.

We are here to help! If you think you or someone you know may have a taste disorder, get in touch with us. We can help and offer guidance and support through the process. Call the office at 207-781-5900 or email us.


Sources of our information: National Institute of Deafness and Other Communication Disorders