Does your mouth have the taste of old pennies? The condition is more common than you might think.
A metallic taste can indicate serious illness, such as kidney or liver problems, undiagnosed diabetes or certain cancers. But these reasons are not common and usually are accompanied by other symptoms.
If you are otherwise healthy, the cause for that metallic tang typically is benign, says family medicine physician Michael Rabovsky, MD. Dr. Rabovsky is Chairman of the Department of Family Medicine and the Vice Chairman of the Medicine Institute at the Cleveland Clinic.
If a metallic taste in your mouth is your only complaint, the cause might be one of several, including prescription drugs or a medical condition. Here, according to Dr. Rabovsky, are eight causes of a metallic taste in your mouth.
1. Poor oral hygiene can make your saliva taste like metal
If you don’t brush and floss regularly, the result can be teeth and gum problems such as gingivitis, periodontitis and tooth infection.
These infections can be cleared up with a prescription from your dentist. The metal taste typically goes away after the infection is gone.
2. Prescription drugs could cause that tin taste
These medicines include antibiotics such as tetracycline; the gout medicine allopurinol; lithium, which is used to treat certain psychiatric conditions; and some cardiac medications. Your body absorbs the medicine and it comes out in the saliva.
Also, medicines that can cause a dry mouth, such as antidepressants, can be a culprit. These can affect your taste because they close your taste buds.
3. Over-the-counter vitamins or medicines may cause an aluminum taste
Multivitamins with heavy metals (such as copper, zinc or chromium) or cold remedies (such as zinc lozenges) can cause a metallic taste. So can prenatal vitamins, and iron or calcium supplements.
Usually the taste will go away as your body processes the vitamins or medicine. If not, check your dosage and make sure you are not taking too much.
4. Infections may lead to a bad metal taste
Upper respiratory infections, colds and sinusitis change your sense of taste. This is temporary and usually ends when the infection does.
5. Cancer treatment often leads to a metallic taste
Patients being treated for cancer with chemotherapy or radiation may experience a metallic taste.
6. Early pregnancy stages might cause a tangy taste in women’s mouths
During the early stages of pregnancy, some women find that their sense of taste changes. One of those changes may be a metallic taste.
7. Dementia may lead to your taste buds malfunctioning
People with dementia often have taste abnormalities. The taste buds are connected by nerves to the brain. Taste abnormalities can occur when the portion of the brain related to taste is not working properly.
8. Chemical exposures may lead to you actually tasting metal in your mouth
If you are exposed to mercury or lead, inhaling high levels of these substances often can produce a metallic taste.
Dr. Rabovsky says that if you experience a metallic taste, it’s best to talk with your doctor, who can then determine if you have a serious illness or condition.
Bonus fact: Why orange juice and toothpaste don’t mix
There’s a pretty basic scientific reason: the presence of sodium laurel sulfate in toothpaste.
Sodium laurel sulfate (SLS) is a surfactant, or type of soap. In addition to toothpaste, it’s also commonly found in a variety of household products, including shaving cream, lip balm and bubble bath. SLS is what creates the foam while you brush.
SLS suppresses the “sweet” receptors on the taste buds, making you temporarily unable to taste any sweet flavors, not just OJ.
It also breaks up phospholipids, which are the agents that block the “bitter” receptors on your tongue. Orange and other citrus juices are usually comprised of a mix of sweet and bitter flavors, so the introduction of toothpaste with SLS to your mouth means that you now can’t taste the sweetness and can’t block the bitterness, leaving you with that gross taste in your mouth.