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Taste is one of the five senses. It involves various neurological functions. When a person notices a metallic taste in the mouth, it can be due to a number of factors, including changes in health.
The tongue has thousands of sensory organs called taste buds and taste papillae. Smell, texture, and temperature also contribute to taste.
If a person experiences changes in their health, diet, or the medication they use, they may perceive taste in a different way.
In this article, learn more about a metallic taste in the mouth, including causes, symptoms, and home remedies.
Several factors can trigger a metallic taste in the mouth. The problem may go away without intervention or when a person makes a lifestyle change, such as stopping a certain medication.
Sometimes, however, it can indicate an underlying condition that needs medical attention.
The following are some potential causes of a metallic taste in the mouth.
Poor oral health
People who do not brush their teeth or floss regularly may experience changes in taste, including a metallic taste.
Some reasons for this include:
- bacterial infections, such as gingivitis or periodontitis
- fungal infections
- trauma to the mouth, including tooth removal
- ulcers and other complications of ill fitting dentures
Treating any infections and maintaining good oral hygiene may help prevent or resolve a metallic taste in the mouth.
Because smell and taste are so closely linked, sinus issues can impair a person’s sense of taste or cause a metallic taste in the mouth. A blocked nose is one symptom of a sinus issue.
Once the sinus problem subsides, the metallic taste should also go away.
Sinus problems are very common and include:
- the common cold
- sinus infections
- nasal polyps
- middle ear infection or other upper respiratory infections
- recent middle ear surgery
People with sinusitis often report dysgeusia.
Sjogren’s syndrome is a type of sicca syndrome. People with other sicca syndromes also experience a dry mouth and a metallic taste.
Some medications can cause an aftertaste as the body absorbs them.
People who use metformin, for example, often say that they have a lingering metallic taste in the mouth. Metformin is a treatment for diabetes.
Research shows that the body excretes metformin into the saliva. The taste will continue as long as the drug remains in the person’s system.
Some other medications that can cause a metallic taste in the mouth include those for chemotherapy and radiation therapy, as well as:
- some antibiotics, such as metronidazole
- acetylcholinesterase inhibitors, for Alzheimer’s disease
- systemic anesthesia (in rare cases)
- some thyroid medications
- adenosine (in fewer than 1% of people)
- angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors
- lithium, a mood stabilizer for bipolar disorder
- ethionamide, an antibacterial treatment for tuberculosis
- lorcainide hydrochloride, for arrhythmia
- gallium nitrate, for reducing high blood calcium levels
In addition, some drugs — such as anticholinergics — may cause a dry mouth. People may experience this as a metallic taste.
This can be due to the treatment itself or its complications, such as mouth ulcers.
The American Cancer Society suggest the following tips for people who experience taste changes due to cancer treatment:
- Avoid using metal eating utensils.
- Use sugar-free lemon drops or mint.
- Opt for fresh or frozen foods rather than canned.
- Add flavors such as lemon, spices, and mint to foods.
- Brush the teeth regularly.
- Use a mouthwash before eating.
- Eat foods cold or at room temperature.
- Opt for chicken, tofu, or dairy products instead of red meat.
Substances that contain metals — such as iron, zinc, and copper — can also cause a metallic taste in the mouth. Experts believe that this happens when the mineral causes oxidation of the salivary protein.
The taste should go away as the body absorbs the vitamins.
The National Health Service (NHS) suggest that early pregnancy often causes taste changes, including a metallic taste in the mouth.
Pregnancy can also cause cravings or a dislike for certain foods. Both of these symptoms tend to go away with time.
A number of neurological conditions — including head and neck trauma, multiple sclerosis, and depression — can also affect a person’s sense of taste.
Because the taste buds send signals to the brain, taste changes can occur if part of the brain is not working as it should.
Research suggests that dysgeusia commonly affects older adults, especially those receiving residential care. This may affect their appetite and nutritional status.
A metallic taste in the mouth can sometimes be a symptom of Guillain-Barre syndrome. This is an autoimmune condition that affects the peripheral nervous system.
A 2003 review stated that this can be due to the “dysfunction of small nerve fibers.”
In 2020, researchers described a person with this syndrome whose only symptom in the early stages was dysgeusia.
A metallic taste can be an early symptom of anaphylaxis, a severe allergic reaction.
If a person develops itching, hives, swelling, and difficulty breathing after exposure to a possible allergen, they need immediate medical attention. Anaphylaxis can be life threatening.
People with end stage kidney disease often complain of a metallic taste in their mouth.
Possible causes of this include:
- high levels of urea and other substances in the body
- low levels of zinc
- metabolic changes
- the use of medication
- a lower number of taste buds
- a change in the flow and composition of saliva
Other possible causes of a metallic taste include:
The symptom is usually temporary and disappears when the underlying issue clears up.
A metallic taste in the mouth is not usually a cause for concern. However, a person should see their doctor if:
- the taste does not go away
- there are other symptoms
- there is no obvious cause for the change
If the taste develops after starting a certain medication, a doctor may be able to change the drug type or dosage.
To diagnose the cause of this symptom, a doctor may refer someone to an otolaryngologist. This is a doctor who specializes in conditions of the ear, nose, and throat.
Diagnosis may involve:
- a physical examination of the ears, nose, and throat
- a dental exam to determine oral hygiene
- a review of the person’s health history and medications
- a taste test to diagnose any taste-related disorders
- other tests to help determine the underlying cause
Depending on the diagnosis, the doctor may prescribe treatment for the metallic taste itself or for an underlying cause of the issue.
Making changes to diet or lifestyle habits may help remove the metallic taste.
Here are some tips that may help: