Why Do I Have a Bad Taste in My Mouth?

Medically reviewed by Deborah Weatherspoon, PhD, RN, CRNA on November 3, 2017Written by Ann Pietrangelo

Overview

Everybody has a bad taste in their mouth occasionally. It usually goes away after brushing your teeth or rinsing out your mouth.

However, in some cases the bad taste sticks around due to an underlying cause. Regardless of what’s causing it, having a bad taste in your mouth can ruin your appetite, possibly leading to nutritional deficiencies and other problems.

If the bad taste doesn’t go away after a day or two, work with your doctor to figure out what’s causing it. Also be sure to tell them about any changes in your appetite or sense of smell.

Read on to learn more about the causes of a bad taste in your mouth and get some tips on how to keep your mouth tasting fresh.

What’s considered a bad taste?

The definition of a bad taste varies from person to person. For some people, the unpleasant taste in their mouth is metallic. For others, it may be bitter or foul, depending on the cause. You might even notice a diminished sense of taste during meals.

Oral causes of a bad taste in the mouth

Poor hygiene and dental problems

The most common reasons for a bad taste in your mouth have to do with dental hygiene. Not flossing and brushing regularly can cause gingivitis, which can cause a bad taste in your mouth.

Dental problems, such as infections, abscesses, and even wisdom teeth coming in, can also cause a bad taste.

Other symptoms of dental problems include:

  • bad breath
  • bleeding, red, or swollen gums
  • sensitive teeth
  • loose teeth

You can avoid most common dental problems by regularly flossing and brushing your teeth. It’s also important to regularly visit your dentist for cleanings and exams. You can also add an antibacterial mouth rinse to your dental routine for added protection.

Dry mouth

Dry mouth, sometimes called xerostomia, happens when your salivary glands don’t produce enough saliva. This can cause a dry, sticky feeling inside your mouth.

Saliva reduces the growth of bacteria in your mouth and helps to remove bits of food. When you don’t have enough saliva, you might have a bad taste in your mouth due to extra bacteria and leftover food there.

Several things can cause dry mouth, including:

If you have dry mouth, work with your doctor to figure out what’s causing it. Most people with dry mouth find relief through lifestyle changes, medication adjustments, and OTC or prescription mouth rinses.

Oral thrush

Thrush is a type of yeast infection that grows in warm, moist areas, including your mouth. Anyone can develop oral thrush, but babies, older adults, and people with suppressed immune systems are more likely to get it.

Oral thrush can also cause:

  • white bumps
  • redness, burning, or soreness
  • trouble swallowing
  • dry mouth

Regularly flossing, brushing, and rinsing out your mouth can help prevent oral thrush. Also try to limit your intake of sugar because yeast feeds on it.

Always contact your doctor if you have white spots in your mouth, even if you don’t have any other symptoms.

Infections

Respiratory infections

Infections in your system, especially viral infections, can affect the taste in your mouth. Tonsillitis, sinusitis, colds, and middle ear infections frequently affect your senses of taste and smell.

Additional symptoms of an infection in your respiratory system include:

Viral infections usually clear up on their own within one to two weeks. The bad taste should go away once the infection clears up.

Hepatitis

Hepatitis B is a viral infection of the liver. One of its early symptoms is a bitter taste in your mouth.

Other early symptoms of hepatitis B include:

  • bad breath
  • loss of appetite
  • low-grade fever
  • nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea

Hepatitis B is a serious infection. If you have symptoms or think you’ve been exposed to the virus, contact your doctor.

In addition to a bad taste in your mouth, medications for hepatitis C can also affect your sense of smell. The taste should go away once you finish the medication.

Hormonal changes | Hormones

Pregnancy

The hormonal fluctuations of early pregnancy can cause many sensory changes. You might crave foods you’ve never wanted before or suddenly find certain smells repulsive. Many women also report having a bad taste, usually a metallic one, in their mouth during their first trimester. While the taste may be annoying, it’s usually harmless and goes away later in your pregnancy. Learn more about the metallic taste in your mouth during pregnancy.

Menopause

Women who are going through menopause or are about to often mention having a bitter taste in their mouth. This is usually caused by dry mouth, which is a common symptom of menopause.

Another possible cause of a bitter taste in your mouth during menopause is burning mouth syndrome. This is a rare condition, but your risk of developing it increases after menopause due to lower levels of estrogen. In addition to a bitter taste in your mouth, you may also feel a burning sensation, especially near the tip of your tongue. These symptoms may come and go.

If you’re going through menopause or are about to and have a bad taste in your mouth, talk to your doctor about possible treatment options. For some women, hormone replacement therapy can help.

Gastrointestinal causes | GI issues

Reflux

Bile and acid reflux have similar symptoms and can happen at the same time. They’re caused by either bile, a fluid made in your liver that helps digestion, or stomach acid moving up through your esophagus.

Both can cause a sour taste in your mouth, in addition to:

  • heartburn
  • upper abdominal pain
  • nausea and vomiting
  • coughing and hoarseness

If you have frequent symptoms of bile or acid reflux, see your doctor. There are a variety of OTC and prescription medications that can help. Acid reflux can sometimes progress to a chronic condition called gastroesophageal reflux disease.

Home care tips include avoiding foods that trigger heartburn, eating smaller meals, and maintaining a healthy weight.

Medications and other substances

Vitamins and dietary supplements

Many vitamins and supplements can cause a metallic taste in your mouth, especially if you take them in large amounts.

Some of the most common vitamins and supplements that can cause a metallic taste include:

  • calcium
  • chromium
  • copper
  • iron
  • multivitamins or prenatal vitamins that contain heavy metals
  • vitamin D
  • zinc, which can also cause nausea

Medications

Many OTC and prescription medications can also cause a bitter or metallic taste in your mouth.

OTC medications that can affect your sense of taste include:

Prescription medications that can cause an unusual taste in your mouth include:

Cancer treatments

There are many chemotherapy medications used to treat cancer. Treatment with chemotherapy usually involves a combination of these, and many of them can cause a metallic or sour taste.

Radiation therapy can also cause a metallic taste, especially when it’s used to treat head and neck cancers.

Any unusual tastes caused by chemotherapy or radiation usually go away once you’re done with treatment.

Neurological conditions

Your taste buds are connected to nerves in the brain. Anything that affects these nerves can cause a bad taste in your mouth.

Conditions that might affect the nerves in your brain include:

Some of the medications used to treat these neurological conditions can also cause an unusual taste in your mouth. This usually goes away after you treat the underlying condition.

The bottom line

If you have an unexplained bad taste in your mouth, make an appointment with your doctor to find the underlying cause.

During your appointment, make sure you tell your doctor:

  • all the medications and supplements you take
  • any other symptoms you have, even if they seem unrelated
  • any previously diagnosed medical conditions

In the meantime, using mouthwash or chewing gum may offer temporary relief until you see your doctor.

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