Having a persistent bad taste in your mouth, as trivial as it may seem, is a very real problem that can reveal other underlying conditions and have a negative effect on your general wellbeing.
As with many other personal experiences that are hidden from those around us, the way things taste is subjective. However, changes in how we perceive flavors can be significant for our health.
An altered sense of taste, medically known as dysgeusia, is usually characterized by foods not tasting as sweet or salty as they once did together with a persistent metallic, bitter, or acidic taste in the mouth.
More attention is being paid to changes in taste and smell since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic. Your sense of taste is directly connected to your sense of smell. Loss of smell is, famously, one of the most prominent symptoms of Covid-19. With Covid, your sense of taste can definitely change, and “metal mouth” is among the possible symptoms, though, not one of the most common ones.
If you are noticing a bad taste in your mouth, there are quite a few possible explanations.
The first thing to consider when facing any unpleasantness in the mouth is your oral hygiene routine. If dental plaque is not removed by properly brushing for two minutes at least twice a day and flossing every day, it can harden into tartar that builds up along your gums and between your teeth.
Gingivitis—an inflammation of the gums, or gingiva—can occur when the natural biofilm that forms as soon as a tooth is exposed to saliva is allowed to mature and thicken into bacterial plaque over time. If the teeth are not brushed, plaque can be detected within 12 to 24 hours and localized gingivitis can be observed after as little as five days. This is one of the leading causes of tooth decay and tooth loss in adults and can lead to serious health problems, including heart disease. The bad taste is a by-product of what are essentially rotting processes taking place inside your mouth.
Visit a dental hygienist regularly, once or twice a year, to have your teeth cleaned professionally. Try out different types of toothbrushes, toothpastes, and mouthwashes to reduce the bad taste in your mouth, to avoid infections, and to have healthier teeth and gums, and pleasant breath. Change your toothbrush regularly.
Rinse your mouth before and after eating if you experience a bad taste in your mouth.
Various viral, bacterial, and fungal infections—colds, sinusitis, hepatitis, oral thrush, and others—can cause a bad taste to appear due to their direct influence on your mouth, throat, nose, sinuses, and the inner ear. A visit to an otorhinolaryngologist (also known as ear, nose and throat doctor, or ENT) can help eliminate the possibility of an infection in these areas.
Viral and fungal infections often come with white spots appearing on your tongue and other parts of the mouth.
Just like the infections themselves, various medications used to fight them can cause an unpleasant taste to occur in your mouth. A wide variety of other medications can also cause a bad taste. The most common culprits include:
Over-the-counter drugs used for treating fungal and viral infections and various other conditions, including smoking cessation aids, can also cause an unpleasant taste in your mouth.
There is often little that can be done to reduce the bad taste while medicating, for example, when using antibiotics.
If the symptoms clearly coincide with starting a new antibiotic therapy, they are completely normal, and you will most likely need to bear with it for the time being.
Some multivitamins and calcium and zinc supplements can also influence your sense of taste. Sometimes the “metallic” taste is linked to actual “metals” in your iron and zinc supplements. Stop taking the supplements for a few days and see if the taste remains. You might also consider if the metal utensils you use contribute to a metallic taste in your mouth. While stainless steel is usually inoffensive, silver cutlery, surprisingly, has recently been shown to make certain foods taste bad.
If the bad taste is overwhelmingly strong, notify your healthcare provider and ask about potential changes to your medication routine. If you change medications and the bad taste remains, definitely follow up with your doctor.
Acid reflux is another common cause for an unpleasant taste in your mouth. With acid reflux, small amounts of stomach acids travel up through the oesophagus into the mouth, bringing their characteristic bitter-acidy taste. Notice if the bad taste becomes stronger after eating or “burping”; if it is irregular or, for example, only occurs in the mornings.
Pay more attention to your eating and lifestyle habits to lessen the effects of acid reflux: eat more slowly and more regularly, consume healthier and milder foods that aren’t too fatty or spicy.
Other digestive issues, such as GERD or other types of inflammation in your digestive system, stomach, liver, and gallbladder issues, may also be at fault. Blood testing can reveal underlying problems with your digestive system.
Similarly, vomiting for any reason will also cause an unpleasant taste but this should disappear in few minutes. Rinse your mouth with water that has a few teaspoons of baking soda in it or with some mouthwash to make it clear faster. Drinking a little cranberry juice can also reduce the bad taste.
Various diseases can also cause an unpleasant taste in your mouth. A strong, bad taste in the mouth is a common symptom of liver and kidney conditions, and of diabetes.
Smoking cigarettes has a direct negative effect on your smell and taste, as the smoke, heat, and toxic ingredients reduce healthy blood flow to the taste buds, effectively killing many of them. Smoking can also initiate various dental problems.
Pregnancy can change your sense of taste. Food aversions and cravings and a distorted sense of taste are common in the first trimester of pregnancy.
Other hormonal changes, such as menopause, can also account for altered taste perception.
The general processes of ageing further dull and distort many people’s sense of taste. Various cognitive disorders such as dementia also often come with changes in the patient's taste and smell perception.
Many of the causes of an unpleasant taste in the mouth—medications, sinus infections, hormonal changes, or neurological issues—can also create a sweet flavor.
Having a persistent sweet taste in your mouth was once thought to be a sign of sweet-related conditions, for example, diabetes, but that is not really the case.
Any of the problems discussed in this article, including acid reflux and other issues typically linked with a bitter and repugnant taste, can also have the opposite effect.
If the sweet taste persists, seek medical advice, just like you would for a bitter or unpleasant taste.
In some cases, there is little to be done to avoid the bad taste, for example, when it is a side-effect of necessary medication, but certain remedies can help reduce the effects.
Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated and ensure healthy blood circulation in your mouth and throat.
Brush your teeth thoroughly for 2 minutes twice a day and floss daily. Change your toothbrush regularly and keep it in safe, clean conditions.
Rinse your mouth before and after eating.
Gargle with salt water or warm water with a few teaspoons of baking soda to relieve your mouth and throat. General remedies for treating sore throat can also be helpful, for example, drinking tea with ginger or sucking on throat pastilles (lozenges).
Chew sugar-free chewing gum.
Eat healthy meals regularly and avoid very spicy and fatty foods. Avoid coffee and other food and drink that might contribute to acid reflux.
Consider the possible causes for the unpleasant taste and test them systematically. Starting by improving your oral hygiene habits and eliminating non-vital medications and supplements.
If you know the bad taste you are experiencing is caused by medication, you can try countering it with food and drink that you enjoy, for example, citrus or coffee. Be careful not to overuse acidic and strong foods, though, because that might trigger acid reflux, which can provoke an unpleasant taste.
One final consideration is the environmental conditions in the places where you spend a lot of time—your workspace or, for example, your bedroom. A bad taste in the mouth might also be a sign of poisoning or allergy due to harmful particles in the air.
The most common causes, however, are infection, oral hygiene, or a side-effect of a specific medication.
If the strange flavor does not disappear after the infection is treated, you’ve upped your tooth-brushing game, and/or you have stopped taking the suspect medications, consult a doctor!
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