Sometimes it doesn’t take big, obvious symptoms to make us question how healthy we really are. And while pain, bleeding and strange lumps will usually send us running straight to the doctor’s, it’s the small things, like losing our sense of smell or having a persistent metallic taste in the mouth, that make us feel uneasy. Even though at times you may feel like you are imagining things, deep down you know that feeling funny is not funny at all.
What Causes Metallic Taste in Mouth?
A distortion of the sense of taste, under the medical term dysgeusia, can take many forms. Among them, a metallic taste in your mouth, described as tasting old pennies, is usually nothing to worry about, especially when you are not experiencing any other unusual symptoms. Below we have listed several benign causes for that weird taste. If you can identify your cause among the ones we have listed, you are probably in the clear.
- Side-effect of drugs/medications. Over-the-counter medications such as cold remedies (containing zinc) and multivitamins with heavy metals are among the most common causes for that metallic taste in your mouth. When it comes to prescription drugs, the medicines that may cause a metallic taste include several medications for heart conditions, lithium (used in the treatment of bipolar disorder and cluster headaches), some antibiotics (tetracycline, clarithromycin, and metronidazole) and allopurinol (used to treat gout, kidney stones and alleviate side-effects of chemotherapy). A medication itself may not have a metallic taste. However, its chemical compounds enter the bloodstream and are later excreted through saliva, affecting the taste buds.
- Dental issues and poor oral hygiene. The teeth and gum problems which often cause a metallic taste in the mouth are periodontitis, gingivitis, and tooth infection. Gingivitis causes bleeding from the gums, and blood can have a slightly metallic flavor due to its iron content. An old amalgam filling could also be one of the causes. When an old filling breaks down, it releases mercury vapors, with the metallic taste as a consequence.
- Dry mouth. It is generally a good idea to take in plenty of liquid. Not drinking enough water can lead to a whole series of side-effects, including fatigue, joint pain, digestive problems, memory impairment and, not least of all, dry mouth, which can adversely affect your sense of taste.
- Allergies. As a response to certain allergens (let’s say, tree pollen), the body releases antibodies and different chemicals into the bloodstream. The antibodies can have unpredictable effects, including a change in the sense of taste.
Exposure to Chemicals
Sometimes a metallic taste can be a symptom of heavy metal poisoning. Causes include contaminated drinking water, fungicides containing copper sulfate and metal on metal hip replacements.
Too Much Vitamin D
Vitamin D helps with the absorption of certain metals, primarily calcium, iron, magnesium and zinc. The body produces its own vitamin D when exposed to sunlight. However, supplementing is sometimes needed, especially for the elderly. High doses of vitamin D can be toxic, even though vitamin D toxicity does not happen often. Hypercalcemia is a strong indication of vitamin D toxicity, resulting in calcium being deposited in soft tissues. If left untreated, this condition will ultimately lead to renal failure.
When kidneys are no longer able to perform their function, waste products begin to accumulate in your blood. This condition is called uremia and it causes bad breath and a bad taste in the mouth.
Sinusitis and Upper Respiratory Infections
These types of infections can significantly alter your sense of taste. There are two reasons for this. First of all, these conditions also affect the back of the mouth. The second reason is that conditions that affect the sense of smell can lead to a bad taste in your mouth. Depending on the condition, it can be a metallic taste.
When it comes to diabetes, the metallic taste is caused by low blood sugar levels or hypoglycemia. Symptoms of hypoglycemia include sweating, chills, nervousness and irritability, fatigue, confusion, shakiness, nausea, and sometimes even seizures and unconsciousness. The metallic taste is an early symptom, caused by a surge in adrenalin levels. For some, the taste is bitter and not metallic.
Spoiled fish causes a metallic off-taste caused by high histamine levels.
Systemic Diseases and Conditions
Changes to the sense of taste are associated with several systemic diseases. They are also among the side effects of chemotherapy and radiation therapy, but more on that later.
A change to any of the senses can be a symptom of nerve damage, trauma and brain disease or injury linked to dementia.
Metallic Taste in Mouth and Pregnancy
Changes in the sense of taste, including a metallic taste in the mouth, are very common during pregnancy and should cause little concern. They are caused by hormonal changes (especially increased levels of estrogen) and by the heightened sense of smell, since smell and taste are interconnected. The change in taste usually occurs during the first trimester and women compare it to drinking water from a metal cup. This condition is as common as morning sickness and usually disappears on its own as the pregnancy progresses.
Metallic Taste in Mouth and Cancer
A metallic taste in mouth is a known side-effect of cancer therapies, including chemotherapy and radiation to the head and neck. This happens because these treatments often cause damage to the taste buds and the salivary glands.
The changes in taste usually go away about a month after treatment ends. However, once you’re in treatment, a slightly altered taste makes very little difference. The question that’s on everyone’s minds right now is whether a metallic taste in mouth can be a symptom of cancer itself. The problem is, cancer is not a single disease, but a very wide array of different tumors and conditions, with a long list of symptoms which also include states that normally healthy individuals experience every day. A single symptom taken out of context does not necessarily indicate cancer. When we think about it like that, anything can mean you have cancer.
If we’re being specific, an unexplained metallic taste in mouth, as well as other sudden changes to the senses, can be a symptom of benign brain tumors. However, it is a very rare symptom and does not point towards such a condition on its own.
How to Get Rid of Metallic Taste in Mouth?
Depending on what’s causing the metallic taste, there are several things you can try to get rid of it. Try one of the following remedies:
- Increase liquid intake. Drinking more water and staying properly hydrated is the first step towards getting rid of the metallic taste in your mouth.
- Maintain proper oral hygiene. Brush your teeth and floss regularly to prevent the various conditions that might cause the unfortunate metallic taste. For even better results, brush your tongue every time you brush your teeth.
- Rinse your mouth with baking soda. You can neutralize pH levels in your mouth by using a mild baking soda solution (1/4 teaspoon of baking soda in a cup of water) several times a day. Don’t drink the solution,instead just use it as a mouthwash.
- Citrus fruit. You can try to combat the metallic taste with citrus fruits, since their acidity helps neutralize other flavors. Think grapefruit, tangerine or a nice tall glass of lemonade.
- Quit smoking. Smoking causes dry mouth and leads to chemical imbalances. It also messes with your taste buds, which makes everything taste differently.