Bad Taste in Mouth

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What is bad taste in mouth?

Bad taste in mouth may indicate taste impairment. The causes of bad taste in mouth can range from altered taste to a complete loss of the sense of taste. Things that ordinarily taste sweet may seem offensive. However, a complete inability to taste is rare.

Bad taste in mouth a common symptom of gastrointestinal reflux disease (GERD), salivary gland infection, sinusitis, poor dental hygiene, or even the result of taking certain medicines. Taste problems are caused by anything that interrupts the transfer of taste sensations to the brain or by conditions that affect the way the brain interprets these sensations. Smell is central to the appreciation of taste. Any type of smell disturbance can also contribute to bad taste in mouth.

Heartburn, or gastric reflux, is a common cause of bad taste. Stomach acid regurgitated into the mouth produces a bad taste described as an acid or metallic taste. An infection of the tonsils or one of the major salivary glands is also a common cause of bad taste. Similarly, poor dental hygiene causes bacterial growth in the mouth that could result in a bad taste. Another possibility is a viral infection that may damage the tongue’s sensory cells and result in changes to the sense of taste. Other mouth or tongue disorders, including mouth ulcers, are a possible cause, as well.

Bad taste may also result from radiation therapy and medicines, such as antibiotics and angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors. Taste problems may take months or even years to resolve. Some changes may be permanent, especially if the mouth is a target of direct radiation therapy.

Bad breath in mouth can be a sign of a serious condition. Seek prompt medical care if your bad taste in mouth is persistent or causes you concern. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you experience difficulty breathing or high fever (higher than 101 degrees Fahrenheit).

What other symptoms might occur with bad taste in mouth?

Bad taste in mouth may accompany other symptoms, which vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. Symptoms that frequently affect the digestive tract may also involve other body systems.

Gastrointestinal symptoms that may occur along with bad taste in mouth

Bad taste in mouth may accompany other symptoms affecting the digestive system including:

  • Bloating from gas
  • Heartburn

Salivary gland symptoms that may occur along with bad taste in mouth

Bad taste in mouth may accompany symptoms related to salivary gland disease including:

  • Difficulty opening your mouth
  • Fever
  • Pain in the face or mouth
  • Redness over the side of the face or the upper neck
  • Sore throat

Nasal and sinus symptoms that may occur along with bad taste in mouth

Bad taste in mouth may accompany symptoms related to nasal and sinus conditions including:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Stuffy nose or nasal congestion

Symptoms that might indicate a serious condition

In some cases, bad taste in mouth may occur with other symptoms that might indicate a serious condition that should be evaluated immediately in an emergency setting. Seek immediate medical care if you, or someone you are with, have bad taste in mouth along with other serious symptoms including:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Loss of weight
  • Other sensory loss, such as sight, hearing or smell)

What causes bad taste in mouth?

Inflammation and infection of the upper respiratory tract, sinuses, mouth, and tongue can result in bad taste in your mouth. Symptoms may arise from inflammatory conditions, infections, or diseases that affect the taste buds of the tongue responsible for the sensation of taste. Gastrointestinal reflux disease has a similar affect on the surface the tongue, which may be damaged by gastric acid and bile.

Gastrointestinal causes of bad taste in mouth

Bad taste in mouth can also be caused by gastrointestinal disorders. Examples include:

  • Intestinal gas
  • Peptic ulcers

Other causes of bad taste in mouth

Bad taste in mouth can also be caused by other conditions including:

  • Bacterial infections
  • Dehydration
  • Medications
  • Poor oral hygiene
  • Sinus infections
  • Sjogren’s syndrome (an autoimmune disease characterized by dry eyes and mouth)
  • Tobacco use
  • Tumor (olfactory meningioma)
  • Viral infections

Serious or life-threatening causes of bad taste in mouth

In some cases, bad taste in your mouth may be a symptom of a serious or life-threatening condition that should be evaluated immediately in an emergency setting. These include:

  • Severe infection

Questions for diagnosing the cause of bad taste in mouth

To diagnose your condition, your doctor or licensed health care practitioner will ask you several questions related to your bad taste in mouth including:

  • Do all foods and drinks taste the same?
  • Do you smoke?
  • Are you having difficulty eating?
  • Is your sense of smell normal?
  • Have you changed toothpaste or mouthwash?
  • How often do you see the dentist?
  • How long has the taste problem lasted?
  • What medicines do you take?
  • What other symptoms do you have?

What are the potential complications of bad taste in mouth?

Because bad taste in your mouth can be due to serious diseases, failure to seek treatment can result in serious complications and permanent damage. Once the underlying cause is diagnosed, it is important for you to follow the treatment plan that you and your health care professional design specifically for you to reduce the risk of potential complications including:

  • Excessive weight loss
  • Malnutrition
  • Spread of infection
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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2021 Jan 7
  1. Taste - impaired. Medline Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003050.htm.
  2. Salivary gland disorders. Medline Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/salivaryglanddisorders.html.
  3. Heckmann JG, Heckmann SM, Lang CJ, Hummel T. Neurological aspects of taste disorders. Arch Neurol 2003; 60:667.
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