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Having a bitter taste in your mouth while you’re consuming something bitter, like chicory or black coffee, is expected. Having a chronic bitter taste in your mouth, regardless of what you’re eating or drinking, is not normal and can indicate one of several health conditions.
Read on to learn more about the causes of a bitter taste in the mouth, when you should seek help, and how you can get rid of this symptom.
Having a bitter taste in your mouth is often not a serious problem, but it can interfere with your daily life and affect your diet.
Burning mouth syndrome
As the name implies, burning mouth syndrome causes a burning or scalding sensation in the mouth that can be very painful. These symptoms can occur in one part of the mouth or all over the mouth. It can also produce a feeling of dry mouth and a bitter or metallic taste.
Burning mouth syndrome occurs in both women and men, especially in women who are going through menopause and beyond.
Sometimes burning mouth has no identifiable cause. Doctors suspect it may be due to damage to the nerves in the mouth. It may also be linked to underlying conditions or treatments for conditions like diabetes mellitus, cancer treatment, and hormonal changes during menopause.
The female hormone estrogen, which fluctuates during pregnancy, can also alter taste buds. Many women report a bitter or metallic taste in their mouths when they’re pregnant. This usually resolves sometime later in the pregnancy or after giving birth.
The feeling of dry mouth, also known as xerostomia, can be caused by a decrease in salivary production or change in the makeup of saliva. The decrease can happen for a number of reasons, including:
- certain medications
- an autoimmune disease, such as Sjögren syndrome, which causes excessive dryness in the mouth and eyes
- tobacco smoking
Without proper saliva production, taste can be altered. Things may taste more bitter, for example, or less salty. In addition, lack of saliva can make swallowing or speaking hard, and people with this condition might notice more cavities and gum infections.
Acid reflux, also called GERD, occurs when the lower esophageal sphincter weakens and allows food and stomach acid to move from your stomach upward back into the esophagus and mouth. The lower esophageal sphincter is a muscle at the bottom of the esophagus, which is the tube that takes food from the mouth to the stomach. Since this food contains digestive acid and enzymes, it can lead to a bitter taste in your mouth.
Other symptoms include:
- burning in the chest a few hours after a meal
- problems swallowing
- a chronic dry cough
Medications and supplements
Once your body has absorbed certain types of medication, remnants of the medication are excreted into the saliva. Additionally, if a medication or supplement has bitter or metallic elements, it can leave a bitter taste in your mouth.
Common culprits are:
- the antibiotic tetracycline
- lithium, which is used to treat some psychiatric disorders
- certain cardiac drugs
- vitamins and supplements that contain zinc, chromium, or copper
Illnesses and infections
When you have a cold, sinus infection, or other illness, your body naturally releases a protein made by different cells in the body to promote and mediate inflammation. It’s thought that this protein can also affect the taste buds, causing increased sensitivity to bitter tastes when you’re sick.
Radiation and chemotherapy can irritate the taste buds, causing many things, including just water, to take on a metallic or bitter taste.
Pine nut syndrome
While not an allergy, some people can have a reaction to pine nuts that leaves a bitter or metallic taste in the mouth about 12 to 48 hours after ingesting the nuts. Scientists aren’t exactly sure why this happens, but they suspect it may have something to do with a contaminant, such as any of the chemicals used in the shelling process, a genetic predisposition, or the nut’s oil becoming rancid.
There are some things you can do at home to help relieve and even prevent the bitter taste in your mouth.
- Drink plenty of fluids and chew on sugar-free gum to help increase saliva production.
- Practice good dental hygiene. Gently brush for two solid minutes twice a day, and floss daily. See your dentist every six months for checkups.
- Reduce your chances of experiencing acid reflux by losing weight if you need to, avoiding spicy or fatty foods, not smoking tobacco products, limiting alcohol, and eating small, frequent meals rather than large ones. The herb slippery elm can help increase mucous secretions, which work to shield the GI tract luminal lining from stomach acid irritation.
- Ask your doctor to switch your medications if you notice one is giving you a bitter taste.
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Long-term treatment will depend on what’s causing you to experience the bitter taste. Your doctor will first ask about your symptoms, go over your medical history and the medications you take, and then perform a physical exam. Your doctor may order lab work to test for underlying conditions, like diabetes mellitus.
Treatment will depend on the underlying condition or other culprit that’s causing the bitter taste. For example, if acid reflux is causing the bitter taste, your doctor may advise over-the-counter or prescription antacids. If type 2 diabetes mellitus is the issue, your doctor may prescribe a drug like metformin (Glucophage). Metformin decreases the amount of sugar (glucose) the liver produces. If certain medications you take are known to cause a bitter taste, you doctor may be able to prescribe something different.
Your health care provider may also refer you to:
- a dentist if they suspect the bitter taste is linked to a dental issue
- an endocrinologist if it’s associated with a disease like diabetes mellitus
- a rheumatologist if it’s thought you may have Sjögren syndrome
Having a bitter taste in your mouth, even when you’re not eating or drinking anything bitter, is a fairly common problem. Most causes are treatable.
Once you and your doctor determine why you have a bitter taste in your mouth and you begin treatment, in most cases, your taste buds should revert back to normal with no long-lasting effects.