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Start > Doctors > Resource centre > Articles > Taste Part 1

Taste enables us to differentiate between bitter, sweet, salty or sour flavours. Smell is also used to help distinguish between tastes, so disturbance of smell can alter our taste appreciation. For instance, if your nose is blocked due to a cold, you can't smell and appear to lose your sense of taste as well.

Dysgeusia is the medical word for disturbance of taste sensation, and it usually occurs when we have a dry mouth. Each person has about 10,000 tastebuds. Most are on the tongue but there are also a few on the back of the throat. They are contained in raised pimples, or papillae. Large papillae are mushroom-shaped and called fungiform. The smaller ones are filliform papillae and look like mountain peaks when seen under the microscope. If you poke your tongue out and have a look at the surface in a mirror, you can see small and large papillae on the rough-textured surface.

Taste pores, long-necked tubes, in these pimples are surrounded by four types of taste buds, each of which is composed of special cells which are sensitive to either sweet, sour, salty or bitter flavours. Certain chemicals in food and drink provoke these tastes by dissolving in saliva and entering the pore. Hairs projecting from these cells into the pore are stimulated by the chemicals. When a nerve is provoked in this way, it sends messages to the brain via the glossopharyngeal nerve, helping us perceive taste. However, if we have a dry mouth, there is not enough saliva to dissolve all the chemicals and appreciate the full flavour.

Teacher: Michael
Many articles taken from 'A word with the doctor', by Dr. John Windsor.


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