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Salty Taste in Mouth: Why It Happens and What You Can Do

Is this cause for concern?

Do you have a salty taste in your mouth when you wake up for the day? Or even when you haven’t eaten anything salty? You may be wondering what’s going on. This strange sensation is actually quite common.

Although it usually isn’t cause for concern, you should still see your doctor if you’re experiencing other symptoms. Here’s what to watch for.

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Dry mouth

1. Dry mouth

Along with a salty taste, you may also feel like you have cotton balls in your mouth. This is known as dry mouth (xerostomia). It can be caused by anything from tobacco use to aging to medication side effects.

You may also experience:

  • stickiness in your mouth
  • thick or stringy saliva
  • bad breath
  • sore throat
  • hoarseness
  • grooved tongue

Dry mouth is relatively easy to clear up on your own. Be sure to drink lots of water and avoid spicy and salty foods until your symptoms subside. You can also try chewing sugar-free gum or using an over-the-counter (OTC) oral rinse, such as Act Dry Mouth Mouthwash, to help stimulate saliva production.

Dehydration

2. Dehydration

Dehydration is another common cause of a salty, dry mouth, and it can develop suddenly or over time. Some people may become dehydrated after a bout of diarrhea or vomiting. Others might become dehydrated after vigorously exercising in the heat.

You may also experience:

  • extreme thirst
  • less frequent urination
  • dark urine
  • fatigue
  • dizziness
  • confusion

Doctors recommend drinking between six and eight glasses of fluids each day. You may need more if you’ve been sick, if the weather is hot, or if you’ve exercised strenuously.

Drink this!
Water is a good, low-calorie choice. Other sugar-free beverages, like herbal tea, coffee, and even ice chips, also count toward your daily total.

Without treatment, dehydration can lead to serious complications. You may experience seizures, heat exhaustion, kidney issues, or even a life-threatening condition called hypovolemic shock. Most adults can get better by drinking more fluids. In severe cases, you may be hospitalized to receive fluids and electrolytes intravenously.

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Bleeding

3. Oral bleeding

A salty or metallic taste in your mouth may be a sign of oral bleeding. This can happen for a number of reason, such as eating sharp foods, like chips, or brushing your gums too aggressively.

If your gums regularly bleed after you floss or brush your teeth, you may be experiencing gum disease (gingivitis). This is a common condition that can also cause your gums to become sore and swollen over time.

Without treatment, gum disease can lead to an infection. If you’re experiencing unexplained bleeding or tenderness, see your dentist.

Oral infection

4. Oral infection

Without treatment, gingivitis can lead to an infection called periodontitis. If caught early, periodontitis usually won’t cause any lasting effects. But in severe cases, it can damage your bones and teeth.

If your gingivitis has progressed to periodontitis, you may experience:

  • bad breath
  • loose teeth
  • gum abscesses
  • pus under your teeth

Bleeding can also signal other infections, such as oral thrush. This is a yeast infection that develops in the mouth. You may see white patches in your mouth or experience a painful burning sensation. While some have a salty taste, others may find they can’t taste anything at all.

Oral human papilloma virus (HPV) is also a possibility. Although it typically doesn’t cause symptoms in the early stages, you may also experience hoarseness or coughing up blood as the infection progresses.

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Post-nasal drip

5. Post-nasal drip

Post-nasal drip from a sinus infection or allergies could also be to blame. The mucus from your nose can build up in the back of your throat when you’re sick. If it mixes with the saliva in your mouth, it can cause a salty taste. You may also feel like you have a stuffy, runny nose or like it’s hard to breathe.

Many colds and allergies resolve on their own. Self-care measures include getting enough rest and fluids, blowing your nose, or taking an OTC cold medication or antihistamine. Saline sprays or rinses may also clear your nasal passages.

You should see your doctor if you have:

  • symptoms that last longer than 10 days
  • high fever
  • sinus pain
  • yellow or green nasal discharge
  • bloody nasal discharge
  • clear nasal discharge, especially after head injury
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Reflux

6. Acid or bile reflux

A sour or salty taste in your mouth may be a sign of acid or bile reflux. These conditions can occur together or separately. Although their symptoms are similar, acid reflux is caused by stomach acids flowing into the esophagus, and bile reflux is caused by bile fluid from the small intestine flowing into the stomach and esophagus.

You may also experience:

  • severe pain in your upper abdomen
  • frequent heartburn
  • nausea
  • vomiting bile
  • cough or hoarseness
  • unexplained weight loss

Left untreated, reflux can lead to gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), a precancerous condition called Barrett’s esophagus, or esophageal cancer. Lifestyle and diet changes, medications, and even surgery can help treat reflux.

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Nutritional deficiency

7. Nutritional deficiency

You may develop a salty or metallic taste in your mouth if your body is lacking certain nutrients. A deficiency can develop quickly or over the course of several years.

You may also experience:

  • fatigue
  • irregular heartbeat
  • pallor
  • personality changes
  • confusion
  • numbness in your hands and feet

Treatment for nutritional deficiencies is specific to the vitamin your body is lacking. For example:

  • Folate deficiency is treated by eating a balanced diet and taking prescription folate supplements.
  • Vitamin B-12 deficiency may respond well to diet changes. Some people may need to take pill or nasal spray supplements. Others may need injections of B-12 if the deficiency is severe.
  • Vitamin C deficiency is treated with supplements. Eating more foods that contain vitamin C also helps.

Sjögren syndrome

8. Sjögren syndrome

Sjögren syndrome occurs when your immune system attacks all the moisture-making glands in your body, including the salivary glands and tear ducts. This can result in a salty taste or dry mouth and dry eyes.

You may also experience:

  • joint pain
  • skin rashes
  • vaginal dryness
  • dry cough
  • fatigue

This condition may accompany other autoimmune disorders, like lupus or rheumatoid arthritis. Many are able to manage their oral symptoms by using OTC treatments, like oral rinses, or by drinking more water. Others may take prescription medications or undergo surgery.

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Other causes

Other possible causes

A salty taste may also be caused by:

Neurological causes: A cerebrospinal fluid (CF) leak can happen when there’s a tear or hole in the membranes surrounding your brain. The hole allows the fluid that surrounds the brain to escape, dripping into your nose and mouth. See your doctor if you experience a leak as well as nausea, vomiting, neck stiffness, or cognitive changes.

Hormonal changes: Your gums may bleed or become more sensitive during pregnancy. As a result, a metallic taste is common, but the changes are individual to each woman. Menopause is another time when women may experience taste changes.

Medication side effects: There are over 400 medications that may cause a salty taste in your mouth. Medications may also cause dry mouth and a range of other side effects. If you suspect your medication is behind the change in taste, talk to your doctor.

Chemotherapy side effects: People undergoing chemotherapy for cancer treatment often report changes in taste due to damage to the taste buds and salivary glands. Dry mouth is also common, especially in those being treated with radiation for head and neck cancers.

See your doctor

When to see your doctor

Many conditions that cause a salty taste in the mouth are easily treatable once the underlying cause is discovered. Mention any taste changes you experience to your doctor. If the change is sudden and accompanied by other symptoms or signs of infection, you may want to seek medical help right away.

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