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Bumps on Tongue in a V-Shape

by
author image Shannon George
Shannon George, former editor-in-chief of the trade magazine "Prime," holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from San Diego State University. Her health interests include vegetarian nutrition, weight training, yoga and training for foot races.
Bumps on Tongue in a V-Shape
Bumps on Tongue in a V-Shape Photo Credit Digital Vision./Digital Vision/Getty Images

The human tongue is covered by small bumps called papillae which contain thousands of taste buds. The dozen-or-so papillae on the very back of the tongue, called the circumvallate papillae or vallate papillae, are larger than other papillae on the tongue and are arranged in a v-shape that points towards the throat. The appearance of circumvallate papillae is normal and not a sign of disease, although these bumps may become inflamed if you have a virus or throat infection.

Appearance

The circumvallate papillae are the largest papillae on the tongue. Most people have about six to 12 of these large bumps on the back of their tongue, arranged in an inverted v-shape, pointing towards the throat. These circumvallate papillae are hard to see unless you stick your tongue all the way out and examine it in the mirror with good lighting. Like most of the papillae on the tongue, the circumvallate papillae are embedded with taste buds, which can be seen under high magnification.

Function

The taste buds on the circumvallate papillae respond primarily to bitter flavors. Because of their location on the very back of the tongue, these buds can make you gag in response to bad food and thereby serve as a natural defense against poisoning. According to ProbertEncyclopaedia.com, each circumvallate papilla contains from 250 to 270 of these bitter-sensitive taste buds. However, as you age, the number of working taste buds on your circumvallate papillae diminishes. Smoking can also reduce the number of taste buds you have.

Variance

Besides age and smoking, sensitivity to bitter taste is also influenced by gender, culture and your individual genetic makeup. According to "Encyclopedia of Nursing and Allied Health," women generally have more taste buds than men, which makes them more sensitive to bitter tastes. Sensitivity to taste also varies greatly from person to person, and this variance may account for individual food preferences. For example, a 1991 study published in "American Journal of Clinical Nutrition" found that children with fewer taste buds enjoyed cheese more so than children with a higher number of taste buds, who experienced a bitter sensation when eating cheese.

Inflammation

The v-shaped bumps on the back of your tongue can become inflamed due to injury from hot food or drink or due to irritation from a virus or throat infection. The skin that covers these papillae is also quite thin so they can easily be injured by a toothbrush or tongue-scraper. The circumvillate papillae should appear larger than the other papillae on the tongue, but if they appear larger or redder than usual and you have tenderness on swallowing, you may have a cold virus or infection.

Diseases

If the bumps on the back of your tongue are unusually inflamed and painful, you may have a disease, but it is likely not serious. Most sore throats are caused by viruses which usually clear up on their own in a week or two. However, it is best to see a doctor if your sore throat lasts longer than a week or is accompanied by a high fever. Other symptoms involving the mouth and tongue which may indicate a more serious disease include swollen tongue, open sores that don't improve and white or gray growths inside the mouth.

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