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Dental and Oral Health Center

White Tongue and Swollen Taste Buds



About 10 days ago, I notices I had a white film-like substance on my tongue (thrush?) and a day or two later I noticed about 5 or 6 bumps on the back of my tongue. After getting scared by info I saw on the internet, I got checked for HIV, oral chlamydia, oral gonorrhea, and syphilis. They all came back negative.

Minor symptoms have included head chills and sore eyes. I went to see an ear/nose/throat doctor. He told me the white substance was lactose and the bumps were swollen taste buds. He gave me a 5 day cycle of antibiotics (Flomox) and something to lessen the other symptoms (Leftose). After 4 days, the minor symptoms have weakened, but my tongue remains in the exact same condition. What could this be?


Usually a white appearance on the top of the tongue is related to harmless accumulation of keratin, which the top surface of the tongue normally produces. It would not be lactose. A pamphlet explaining this can be found at the website http://aaomp.org Click on the "Public" link, then click on the "Information for Patients" link.

As for the "bumps", these most likely represent the normal circumvallate papillae. There are usually 5-8 of these reddish bumps, each about 4 millimeters (3/16 of an inch) in diameter, arranged in sort of a "V"-shaped pattern across the very back of the tongue. These papillae contain taste buds, which are actually microscopic structures that cannot be seen with the naked eye. The various papillae on the surface of the tongue are often mistakenly referred to as "taste buds".

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Response by:

Carl M Allen, DDS, MSD Carl M Allen, DDS, MSD
Professor Emeritus of Oral Pathology
College of Dentistry
The Ohio State University