A relatively common complaint I hear from some of my patients is that they have a developed a metallic taste in their mouth. This taste can best be described as the same taste you’d get by sucking on some coins. Most come to me wondering if there is something badly wrong. They’ve heard all the crazy rumors that a metallic taste is the sign of brain cancer or something else equally unlikely. Don’t worry! The most common causes of a metallic taste aren’t anything terrible like that.
Before we take a look at the most common reasons for a metallic taste, you should understand how your sense of taste actually works. The technical term for this is “parageusia”. Interestingly enough, your sense of taste is determined by the sensations from your taste buds, the nerves responsible for your sense of smell, and how your brain interprets these signals. It’s a highly complicated system and can be hijacked by a lot of different things.
Reason #1: Medications
Many medications have a side effect of causing a metallic taste in your mouth. The most common offenders include antihistamines, antibiotics, antifungals, anti-psychotics, bisphosphonate osteoporosis medications, some blood pressure medications, glaucoma medications, corticosteroids, diabetes medications, diuretics, gout medications, muscle relaxers, drugs for Parkinson’s disease, seizure medications, thyroid medications, and certain stimulants. This is a huge list and includes many many common medications that people take. Usually the altered taste sensation will go away once the medicine is stopped. Talk to your dentist or physician for possible replacements if it is really bothersome.
Reason #2: Sinus Problems
Because your sense of taste is linked to your sense of smell, sinus problems can cause altered taste sensations. Pressure in your sinuses makes it difficult for your body to process smells correctly. Usually once the sinus problems resolve, the altered taste will go away. Common reasons for sinus problems are allergies, colds, and the flu. Take decongestants to help reduce some of the symptoms associated with it.
Reason #3: Pregnancy
Many women have a metallic taste in their mouth in early pregnancy as a result of the significant hormone changes that occur. This generally goes away later on in the pregnancy and definitely after you give birth.
Reason #4: Food Allergies
Some people have mild food allergies to common foods such as shellfish or nuts. While not causing full body symptoms, they can present as an altered sense of taste.
Reason #5: Poor oral hygiene
Infections in the mouth from gum disease can alter the sensation of taste in your mouth. If you can get the infection cleared up, the taste problems will go away.
Reason #6: Multivitamins
Multivitamins (and also prenatal vitamins, etc) have a high level of certain metals in them. When taking them, this metal can be secreted in high levels in your saliva causing you to have the classic taste of metal in your mouth.
Reason #7: Treatment for cancer
Chemotherapy and radiation treatment can cause havoc with both the actual taste buds as well as the nerves that are responsible for transporting these signals. Symptoms can range anywhere from a total loss of taste sensation to just mildly altered taste.
Reason #8: Brain (Central Nervous System) Problems
This is the most unlikely reason, but are usually the most serious causes of a metallic taste in your mouth. Common conditions include Bell’s Palsy, Brain cancer, Parkinson’s Disease, Stroke, and Dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. All of these cause this metallic taste by altering the neurons that either transport the sensations or the actual neurons in the brain.
If you’re not able to figure out the specific reason for your metallic taste or it continues for a long period of time, please see your dentist or physician for an evaluation.