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A strange or nasty taste in your mouth is an annoyance at best, and at worst it could be a symptom of a serious medical condition. If you have a bad taste that never goes away or returns regularly, you should talk to your dentist or physician. The condition could be due to a problem in your mouth or another part of your body or due to medications or supplements that you’re taking.

Bad Taste in Mouth: Symptoms

Taste buds and nerves that lead from the mouth help you enjoy the taste of food and drink, but they can also convey the sensation of a bad taste. Patients report that their mouths taste like old pennies or that they taste metallic, bitter or burning. Sometimes the taste is simply bad. The unpleasant sensations may last continually for days or weeks or may come and go.

Bad Taste in Mouth: Causes

Diseases, medications, supplements, syndromes and infections are some causes of a bad taste in the mouth. Gum disease is caused by bacteria attacking and breaking down gum tissue, creating a unpleasant taste that’s often accompanied by bad breath. On the other hand, a bad taste could be due to medications like the antibiotic tetracycline, gout medicine, the psychiatric treatment lithium, or supplements like multivitamins, iron or calcium tablets.

Burning mouth syndrome also causes taste changes, in particular metallic or bitter tastes. A bad taste and other burning mouth symptoms can persist from morning until night, increase as the day progresses or occur intermittently.

If the sense of taste disappears, an upper respiratory tract infection could be responsible, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Colds, coughs and sinus infections can change the sense of taste, though the effect is only temporary. The Cleveland Clinic also lists diabetes, kidney or liver problems and certain cancers as other rare causes of a change in the sense of taste. More causes include cancer treatments, pregnancy, dementia and chemical exposure.

Bad Taste in Mouth: Diagnosis

A dentist or physician looks at the patient’s medical status, history and other symptoms to diagnose the cause of a bad taste in the mouth. Visit a dentist to check for gum disease or other dental problems before consulting a physician.

If your gums are in good shape, that doesn’t mean that the bad taste is due to a serious medical problem. Many changes in taste have benign causes. Michael Rabovsky, M.D. Chairman of the Department of Family Medicine at the Cleveland Clinic, says that the source of a metallic taste is probably harmless if the patient has no other symptoms.

Bad Taste in Mouth: Treatment Options

Tackling the cause of the bad taste in the mouth is the obvious and best treatment for making the problem go away. Twice-yearly professional cleanings and regular brushing and flossing may keep gum disease at bay. Consider swishing with a mouthwash that provides protection against bacteria that cause gingivitis.

Alternatively, your physician might prescribe saliva replacements, pain relievers, nerve pain blockers or anaesthetic oral rinses to treat burning mouth syndrome. When supplements or treatments are causing the bad taste, ceasing them should make the taste go away, but your physician can advise on the best course of action for you.

A bad taste in your mouth that doesn’t resolve by itself or regularly returns isn’t something you can ignore. Talk to your dentist or physician so they can find out the cause and prescribe a treatment if needed. When the nasty taste goes away, you can go back to enjoying your favourite foods and drinks!