In vivo laser scanning confocal microscopy is a relatively new, non-invasive method for assessment of oral cavity epithelia. The penetration depth of approximately 200–400 µm allows visualisation of fungiform papillae and their taste buds.
This paper describes the technique of in vivo volumetry of human taste buds. Confocal laser scanning microscopy used a diode laser at 670 nm for illumination. Digital laser scanning confocal microscopy equipment consisted of the Heidelberg Retina Tomograph HRTII and the Rostock Cornea Module. Volume scans of fungiform papillae were used for three-dimensional reconstruction of the taste bud.
This technique supplied information on taste bud structure and enabled measurement and calculation of taste bud volume. Volumetric data from a 23-year-old man over a nine-day period showed only a small deviation in values. After three to four weeks, phenomenological changes in taste bud structures were found (i.e. a significant increase in volume, followed by disappearance of the taste bud and appearance of a new taste bud).
The data obtained indicate the potential application of this non-invasive imaging modality: to evaluate variation of taste bud volume in human fungiform papillae with ageing; to study the effects of chorda tympani nerve transection on taste bud volume; and to demonstrate recovery of taste buds in patients with a severed chorda tympani nerve who show recovery of gustatory sensibility after surgery.