Bad Taste in the Mouth: Possible Causes and Ways to Treat It

Medically Reviewed By Debra Sullivan, Ph.D., MSN, R.N., CNE, COI
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Having a bad taste in the mouth now and then is normal. A bad taste usually goes away on its own or after flossing. However, if a bad taste persists, it could be a symptom of a medical condition. About 1 in 20 people in the United States experience a persistent bad taste in the mouth, according to one national survey from 2016. The survey also reports that taste problems more commonly occur in females than males and increase with age.

This article highlights some potential causes of a bad taste in the mouth and discusses its related symptoms and treatments. It also explains the connection between a bad taste in the mouth and COVID-19.

What a bad taste in the mouth means

A bad taste in the mouth can occur with certain foods. According to the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery,

“aliageusia” is the medical term for when something that used to taste pleasant begins to taste bad.

“Dysgeusia” is the medical term for a complete alteration in taste. For example, everything may taste sweet, sour, bitter, or metallic.

A bad taste in the mouth is a common symptom of a variety of medical conditions. These include COVID-19, salivary gland infections, and sinusitis

Certain habits, such as smoking and not ensuring proper dental hygiene, may also lead to a bad taste in the mouth.

The following sections explore some of the major causes of a bad taste in the mouth in more detail.

Acid reflux

Sometimes, stomach acid can flow backward from the gut into the esophagus. You may regurgitate some of it into your mouth. This phenomenon is called gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), or acid reflux. It can produce a bad taste in the mouth.

Other symptoms

Treatment and prevention 

You can prevent acid reflux by eating small meals and maintaining a moderate weight.

If you have GERD, your doctor may also prescribe antacids or H2 receptor blockers.

Get other home remedies for acid reflux here.

Dry mouth

A dry mouth is the greatest risk factor for taste problems. This is because saliva is important for taste. Specifically, it dissolves food molecules to bring out their taste. Many medications and medical conditions, including Sjögren’s disease, can stifle saliva production and cause taste problems.

Other symptoms 

Treatment and prevention 

Staying hydrated may help you prevent or manage symptoms. If the dryness is severe, a doctor may administer saliva stimulants.

Learn what you can do about a dry mouth here.

Pregnancy

Hormones that develop during pregnancy can change the taste senses. For example, some pregnant people may experience a persistent metallic taste.

Other symptoms 

Treatment and prevention 

Drinking citrus juices and chewing sugar-free gum may rid the mouth of the bad taste. Flossing often may also help keep the mouth fresh. 

Learn which foods can help ease pregnancy-related symptoms here.

COVID-19 

COVID-19 can cause a sudden loss of smell (anosmia) and loss of taste (ageusia). In some cases, the disease can also cause a bad taste in the mouth.

For loss of smell, the theory is that SARS-CoV-2 infects cells in the nose that support the sensory neurons. The cause of taste loss is not known, but it may be related to inflammation.

Other symptoms 

Treatment and prevention 

Most people regain their sense of smell and taste in about a month, but it may take much longer than this. A course of steroids may improve the senses. For loss of smell, people may also consider smell training, which involves relearning a variety of different smells.

Getting vaccinated against the virus helps prevent COVID-19.

Doctors may give medications to prevent SARS-CoV-2 infection in people who have a higher likelihood of severe COVID-19 but who either cannot receive the vaccine or are not adequately protected by it due to various health conditions or adverse effects.

Infections

Inflammation and infection of the upper respiratory tract, sinuses, mouth, or salivary glands can result in a bad taste in the mouth. For example, oral thrush is a fungal infection that can cause an unpleasant taste in the mouth, among other symptoms. Mouth sores can also cause a bad taste.

Other symptoms 

Treatment and prevention 

Doctors usually prescribe antibiotics for bacterial infections and antifungals for fungal infections. However, self-care treatments, such as gargling with salt water, may also help. 

Ways to lower your risk of oral infections include:

  • reducing your alcohol intake
  • limiting tobacco use
  • brushing and flossing the teeth daily

Poor dental hygiene 

If you do not maintain proper dental hygiene, bacteria may multiply in your mouth. Subsequently, these bacteria can inflame the gums, weaken the enamel, and leave a bad taste in the mouth.

Other symptoms 

Treatment and prevention 

Brushing and flossing the teeth every day can promote dental hygiene. Reducing your sugar intake and avoiding tobacco products can also help.

Learn about six causes of bad breath here.

Cancer treatment

According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), cancer treatment, including radiation therapy and chemotherapy, can alter the function of taste receptor cells. This can cause a bad taste in the mouth. 

Other symptoms 

Treatment and prevention 

Your senses of taste and smell usually return after treatment ends, but the loss can persist.

The ACS lists some strategies that may make eating more pleasurable. A few of these include:

  • using plastic utensils and glass cups
  • sucking on sugar-free lemon drops
  • seasoning food with tart flavors
  • eating fresh or frozen food, not canned or warm food
  • consuming chicken, beans, eggs, nuts, and seeds as sources of protein instead of red meat if it tastes bad
  • rinsing with a baking soda, salt, and water mouthwash before eating

Drugs and chemicals

Some drugs can change how your taste buds function. This can result in a persistent bad taste in your mouth. Such drugs and chemicals include:

  • antibiotics
  • nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
  • antihistamines
  • statins
  • drugs for high blood pressure
  • insulin
  • antidepressants
  • sedatives
  • vitamins and supplements, such as potassium
  • tobacco

Other symptoms 

Treatment and prevention

Discuss the side effects of your medications with your healthcare professional. Also, try to avoid using sweetened drugs for extended periods.

Neurological conditions

Your central nervous system (CNS) is responsible for processing and interpreting information from your taste receptors.

However, some neurological conditions, such as Parkinson’s disease and cerebral palsy, can disrupt the function of the CNS. This can contribute to a bad taste in the mouth if it affects the sensory neurons required for taste.

Other symptoms 

  • headaches
  • a loss of vision
  • memory loss

Treatment and prevention 

Most progressive neurological conditions are not curable, so the symptoms may persist. However, physical therapy, medications, and other treatments may help relieve the symptoms.

Scientists are actively studying how taste cells send signals to the brain. They hope to find new treatment methods for restoring taste.

Oral cancer

When cancer develops in the oral cavity, it can affect taste cells. The oral cavity includes the lips, inner mouth, and tongue. Oral cancer can disrupt the sensation of taste.

Other symptoms 

  • a lump in the cheek
  • loose teeth
  • a sore mouth

Treatment and prevention 

Treatment methods for oral cancer include surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy

Smoking is a risk factor for oral cancer, so not smoking will reduce the risk of developing it. Tobacco also affects the taste cells directly.

Having regular dental checkups can help find oral cancer in the early stages, which is when treatment is more likely to result in a good outcome.

Learn about some oral cancer warning signs here.

Diagnosing the cause of a bad taste in the mouth

According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), e

ar, nose, and throat doctors have the expertise to diagnose taste and smell conditions.

Your doctor may order or perform tests to determine the underlying cause and the severity of the taste deficit. For example, they may have you do a “sip, spit, and rinse” taste test as they apply different chemicals to your tongue.

They may also refer you to another type of specialist, depending on initial test results and any other symptoms you may be experiencing. Blood tests and brain imaging may point to potential causes.

Diagnosis may also involve your doctor asking questions about your symptoms. For example, they may ask the following questions:

  • Do all foods and drinks taste the same?
  • Do you smoke?
  • Have you lost your appetite?
  • How is your sense of smell?
  • Have you changed your toothpaste or mouthwash recently?
  • How long has your taste disorder lasted?
  • What medications do you take?
  • What other symptoms do you have?

Ways to get rid of a bad taste in the mouth

Although a bad taste in the mouth could go away on its own, identifying and treating the underlying problem is the surest way to resolve it. For example, if a bacterial infection is the underlying cause, you may need antibiotics.

Seek early treatment if you have a persistent bad taste in the mouth.

The NIDCD lists these strategies to help make food taste better:

  • Eat foods of different colors and textures.
  • Experiment with different spices.
  • Add crunchy or flavorful toppings, including nuts, seeds, and fats (such as butter or olive oil, in moderation), to problem foods.

How to prevent a bad taste in the mouth

The following lifestyle habits can help prevent a bad taste in the mouth:

  • brushing and flossing the teeth regularly
  • staying away from tobacco products 
  • making dental checkups a habit
  • eating a nutritious diet
  • drinking plenty of water
  • reducing caffeine intake
  • reducing alcohol intake 
  • reducing sugar intake

Learn which health screenings dentists can do here.

Potential complications

Left unresolved and depending on the underlying cause, a bad taste in the mouth may lead to some complications, including:

Summary

A bad taste in the mouth is a common symptom of many different health conditions. These health conditions include COVID-19, acid reflux, a dry mouth, sinusitis, and certain neurological disorders. Smoking, heavy drinking, and taking particular medications can also cause a bad taste. Taste also changes with aging.

Depending on the cause, a bad taste in the mouth may come with other symptoms, including bad breath and a loss of smell.

Treatment methods for a bad taste in the mouth focus on addressing the underlying condition or circumstance. Consistent dental hygiene and other self-care measures can help prevent and may resolve this symptom.

Further research into the sense of taste will lead to a greater understanding of it. It may also contribute to new therapies and treatments.

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Medical Reviewer: Debra Sullivan, Ph.D., MSN, R.N., CNE, COI
Last Review Date: 2022 Mar 29
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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.