What Causes a Metallic Taste in Your Mouth?

Having a metallic taste in your mouth (parageusia), is fairly common and, if you are relatively healthy, it's typically nothing to worry about. Since taste is directly related to your sense of smell, conditions that affect it or your taste buds are often the culprits, including sinus infections, medication side effects, and food allergies. Though rarer, there are also possible causes that are more serious, including diabetes, dementia, and kidney failure.

Gum Disease or Poor Oral Health

Gingivitis or periodontal disease that often result from poor oral hygiene (foregoing regular dental check-ups, not brushing or flossing regularly, etc.) can cause a metallic taste in your mouth. This metallic taste, often due to bleeding of the gums, isn't serious. However, gum disease can be and should be treated to avoid complications such as tooth loss.

If you suspect that gum disease may be causing the metallic taste in your mouth, don't wait to make an appointment with your dentist.

Medication and Vitamins

Hundreds of commonly used medications can cause a metallic taste in your mouth because they interact with taste bud receptors in the brain. Residual medication in saliva can also lead to this.

Some of the more common drug culprits include:

  • Antihistamines
  • Antibiotics, including metronidazole
  • Antidepressants or antipsychotic medications
  • Antifungal medications
  • Blood pressure medications
  • Chemotherapy drugs
  • Diabetes medications, including metformin
  • Diuretics
  • Glaucoma medications
  • Nicotine patches
  • Osteoporosis medications
  • Radiation drugs
  • Seizure medications, including phenytoin
  • Steroids

Vitamins that contain heavy metals, such as copper, iron, and zinc, can also bring about a metallic taste simply because of the ingredients they contain. Women often experience this when taking prenatal vitamins.

Mouth Injury or Oral Surgery

Blood is rich in iron, which is why it causes a metallic taste in your mouth. As such, if you've had any recent mouth injuries (biting your tongue) or oral surgery (wisdom teeth removal or a tonsillectomy), you'll likely experience a metallic taste until bleeding is under control and your wound heals.

Sinus Problems

Conditions such as upper respiratory infections, colds, sinusitis, acute or chronic sinus infections, enlarged turbinates, deviated septum, or even a middle ear infection can cause abnormalities in your sense of smell and, subsequently, your sense of taste.

Specific allergies, including tree pollen, can also lead to sinus problems and a metallic taste in your mouth. These problems are generally treated with antibiotics, by addressing underlying allergies, or by surgery. Once your sinus issues have resolved, the metallic taste in your mouth will also go away.

Pregnancy

Hormonal changes during pregnancy can cause disturbances in taste and smell, which may manifest as a metallic taste in your mouth.

Food Allergies and Anaphylaxis

Specific food allergies, such as allergies to shellfish and tree nuts, have been known to cause a metallic taste in the mouth.

But this could also be an early symptom of a serious allergic reaction, called anaphylaxis. The metallic taste can begin almost immediately, prior to other symptoms of anaphylaxis such as skin itching and swelling, difficulty breathing or wheezing, nausea or vomiting, and headaches and disorientation.

Anaphylaxis is life-threatening. If you suspect that you or someone you are with is experiencing an anaphylactic reaction, emergency care, including an epinephrine shot, is needed immediately.

Diabetes and Low Blood Sugar

Diabetes and low blood sugar are both known to cause taste disturbances, including a metallic taste in the mouth.

A common diabetes medication, metformin, is also very likely to cause this taste disturbance.

Neurological Diseases

Neurological problems, such as dementia or Alzheimer's disease, can cause the brain to misinterpret signals coming from the taste buds. This can result in loss of appetite and a metallic taste in the mouth.

Other neurological problems that can cause this include:

  • Bell's palsy
  • Brain lesions or tumors
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Parkinson's disease
  • Strokes

Kidney Failure

Another serious cause of a metallic taste in your mouth is kidney failure. Uremic toxicity (excessive uric acid), which is due to a loss of kidney function, can cause taste changes like this. Of course, this symptom alone is hardly the only sign.

Burning Mouth Syndrome

Some people with burning mouth syndrome—a chronic condition that causes a burning pain sensation on the tongue or mucous membranes without another identifiable cause—will also experience a bitter and metallic taste.

Medications used to treat burning mouth syndrome, including tricyclic antidepressants, benzodiazepines, and gabapentin, may help minimize the metallic taste.

Preventing a Metallic Taste

Preventing that metallic taste in your mouth mostly depends on the cause. However, there are a few general strategies that may help minimize the metallic taste (or at least make it more bearable). Here are a few to consider:

  • Stay hydrated. Acidity can also help cut the taste, so consider adding a little lemon or lime to your water.
  • Brush and floss after meals.
  • Opt for plastic, high-quality plastic utensils over metal ones.
  • Experiment with some strong herbs and spices in your cooking.
  • Stock up on some mints or mint-flavored gum to enjoy between meals.

When to See a Doctor

If you briefly experience a metallic taste in your mouth, it's probably not a concern. Take note if you have recently started any new medications, as this is an extremely common culprit. However, if you persistently have this experience and exhibit other worrisome symptoms, you should see your doctor.

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