What Can Cause a Metallic Taste in the Mouth?

Medically Reviewed By Alana Biggers, M.D., MPH
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A metallic taste is a distorted sense of taste in your mouth. A metallic, bitter, or foul taste in the mouth is also referred to as dysgeusia. You are born with about 10,000 taste buds, but you start to lose them as you age. This is why older people can usually tolerate more intense tastes than children. Taste can also be impaired by smoking and certain diseases and conditions.

Common conditions that can impair your sense of taste include a stuffy nose due to allergies or the common cold, a sinus infection, and certain medications. A temporary metallic taste in the mouth during pregnancy is also common.

Keep reading to learn more about the causes of a metallic taste in the mouth.

Gum disease

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Infections of the gum involving bacteria, viruses, or fungi can cause gum disease. This can result in an altered sense of taste, including a metallic taste in the mouth. This is because these infections can make chemicals in your mouth that make you taste things differently.

If you have a genetic disorder that makes you crave sweet foods, you may be at a higher risk of gum disease.

In order to reduce your risk of gum disease, you can try:

  • regularly brushing your teeth
  • using dental floss
  • having a checkup at the dentist twice a year

Medications

Certain medications can cause you to experience a metallic taste in your mouth. If you think a metallic taste may be the result of medications you are taking, do not stop taking them without checking with your doctor first.

Some medications and supplements that can affect your sense of taste include:

According to the European Association of Oral Medicine, the following medications may also cause issues with taste:

Medication typeExamples
Antirheumatic drugsPenicillamine, levamisole, gold, levodopa
Antithyroid drugsCarbimazole, thiouracil
Anti-inflammatory drugsPhenylbutazone, acetylsalicylic acid
Diabetes medicationsBiguanides
Cytotoxic drugsDoxorubicin, methotrexate, vincristine, carmustine
Diuretics and high blood pressure medicationsCaptopril, diazoxide, ethacrynic acid
Antimicrobial drugsMetronidazole, lincomycin, ethambutol
HIV protease inhibitorsAmphotericin
Anti-seizure drugsCarbamazepine, baclofen

Cancer treatment

Cancer treatment can also cause a metallic taste in the mouth. For example:

  • Chemotherapy drugs: These can include bleomycin and carbo-/cisplatin. An altered sense of taste is a common side effect of these medications.
  • Radiation therapy: Radiation treatment, especially of the head and neck, can also cause differences in your sense of taste.

The National Health Service (NHS) suggests that people undergoing cancer treatment who are experiencing an altered sense of taste can try eating stronger tasting foods, such as:

  • ginger
  • spices
  • hard candies

Colds and sinus infections

Upper respiratory and middle ear infections can also cause a metallic taste in your mouth. This includes COVID-19.

There are taste receptors in many places other than your mouth, including your sinuses and mouth mucus. Any changes to these areas can affect your sense of taste.

You may also be tasting mucus due to post-nasal drip, which often happens with sinus infections.

Once your infection has gone away, your taste should return to the way it was before. Contact a doctor if it does not improve.

Indigestion

Indigestion can cause an altered sense of taste.

Acid and enzymes from the stomach can affect taste, causing a bitter or sour taste in the mouth. Once you have treated the indigestion itself, your sense of taste should return to normal.

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can also cause changes to your sense of taste. However, this is a less common symptom.

Conditions that can affect the digestive system, such as Crohn’s disease, may also cause a different sense of taste.

Pregnancy and menopause

Changes in a sense of taste can also affect people who are pregnant or experiencing menopause. This is due to hormonal changes.

For people who are pregnant, this changed sense of taste is often temporary and will disappear on its own.

If you notice it is lingering or worsening, contact your doctor.

Learn more about pregnancy symptoms here.

Dry mouth

If you do not have enough saliva in your mouth, your body cannot detect the taste of food properly. This is because the food does not absorb and break down properly in your mouth.

A dry mouth may be the result of:

  • Sjogren’s syndrome
  • medications, such as water pills
  • anxiety

Learn the signs and symptoms of dry mouth here.

Vitamin deficiencies

Sometimes, people who are deficient in certain vitamins notice differences in their sense of taste, including having a metallic taste in their mouth.

Deficiencies can involve vitamins such as:

  • niacin (vitamin B3)
  • zinc
  • copper
  • vitamin B12

Smoking

Smoking tobacco products can also cause changes in your sense of taste, including causing a metallic taste. This is also the case with certain smoking cessation products that contain nicotine.

Smoking can cause this change in your sense of taste because of the chemicals in tobacco. These chemicals can sit on the tongue and around the throat and change the body’s perception of certain flavors.

Aging

As you get older, you may notice changes in the way you taste or smell things. Changes in taste are less common than changes in smell, but the two are very much linked.

According to a 2021 study, taste changes due to age may be more common in males than females.

Surgery or injury

Most people who experience issues with taste develop these problems as a result of an injury or illness. Injuries can involve:

  • Swelling of the tongue: Taste pores may close when the tongue swells. Sometimes swelling is caused by vitamin deficiencies.
  • Nerve damage: The nerve for the front part of the tongue goes through the ear and separates from the facial nerve. If this nerve is damaged, you can lose your sense of taste. Facial or neck injury can cause this to happen, as well as conditions such as Bell’s palsy.
  • Surgery: Surgeries of the head or neck, including middle ear surgery, can cause taste changes or loss due to nerve damage.

Learn about other causes and symptoms of a bad taste in the mouth here.

When to contact a doctor

Because a metallic taste can be a sign of an infection or other condition, you should seek prompt medical care for it. Speak with a medical professional about your symptoms. If a metallic taste persists, recurs, or causes you concern, notify your doctor. 

Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you experience trouble breathing or swallowing.

Questions for diagnosing the cause of a metallic taste

To diagnose the underlying cause of a metallic taste, your doctor or healthcare professional will ask you several questions about your symptoms. Providing complete answers to these questions will help your doctor diagnose the cause of the metallic taste. Questions include:

  • When did the metallic taste first appear?
  • Describe any changes in the texture, appearance, or taste of the tongue.
  • Have you noticed any tongue swelling or mouth sores or lesions?
  • List all diseases and conditions in your medical and dental history. Also list all medications, supplements, and herbal drugs you are taking.
  • Do you smoke?
  • Have you been in recent contact with any unusual substances or environments, such as chemicals, insecticides, or hot and spicy foods?
  • Have you experienced any recent conditions such as fever, upper respiratory infections, oral or tongue trauma, or other conditions of the mouth, throat, or nose?

Learn about the possible causes of a bitter taste in the mouth here.

Treatment and prevention

The best form of treatment for a metallic taste in the mouth will depend on what has caused it. If there is no obvious cause, contact a doctor. Sometimes, the metallic taste, along with its cause, will disappear on its own.

Your doctor may suggest changes or additions to your medication regime.

Eating a balanced diet with the correct amount of nutrients can help prevent nutritional deficiencies that may lead to a metallic taste in the mouth.

Some at-home tips for managing a metallic taste in your mouth include:

  • eating foods with varying colors and textures
  • adding flavor using aromatic herbs and spices
  • contacting a doctor or a nutritionist

Summary

Causes of a metallic taste in the mouth include gum disease, medical treatment side effects, infections, pregnancy, dry mouth, smoking, aging, and injury.

If you have a metallic taste in your mouth and it does not go away on its own or does not have an obvious cause, contact your doctor.

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Medical Reviewer: Alana Biggers, M.D., MPH
Last Review Date: 2022 Mar 31
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.