The sense of taste is important for us to detect chemical substances that enter through the mouth. It also helps with appetite and drives a person to seek certain foods for its taste which may also be needed by the body for its nutritional value. The taste sensation also helps to signal the body when an ingested substance may be toxic to the system.
We all have expectations of what an edible substance should taste like based on past experiences. We also know that taste is elicited when there is food or fluid in the mouth. However, sometimes a food or beverage tastes strange and this abnormality is not due to the substance but rather due to a problem with the taste buds. Similarly a strange taste can arise in the mouth without any food or fluid.
Terms for Strange Tastes
A strange taste in the mouth may not seem like a serious problem. However, it may be a symptom of some underlying disease which needs to be diagnosed and medically treated. Understanding the different terms for abnormalities in the taste sensation is therefore important. There are several different medical terms used to describe these abnormalities with the taste sensation.
- Dysgeusia means a distortion in the taste sensation.
- Cacogeusia means an unpleasant taste in the mouth.
- Hypogeusia refers to a dulled taste sensation.
- Ageusia is when there is a lack of sense of taste.
It is important to differentiate between an abnormal taste that is due to some sensory disturbance from a bad taste due to bad-tasting food or beverages. The latter does not mean that the taste sensation is disrupted.
Causes of Strange Taste in the Mouth
There are a number of different causes of strange taste in the mouth. This can stem from problems with the taste buds, nerves that run to the brain from the taste buds or from the taste centers in the brain. However, this is not the common causes of dysgeusia. Instead there are everyday problems that are more likely to lead to strange tastes in the mouth.
Poor dental hygiene and orodental problems are one of the more common causes of a strange taste in the mouth. It is more prominent when tooth decay and other infectious dental conditions set in. The taste is partly due to the decomposition of food in the mouth and also duet to decaying tissue. It typically causes a bad taste in the mouth.
Read more on tooth decay.
A range of mouth diseases can cause a disturbance in the taste sensation. This ranges from dry mouth and oral herpes to mouth ulcers and even oral cancer. The abnormal tastes may be due to inflammation of the taste buds, decaying tissue, pus and blood in the mouth. A lack of saliva affects the ability to taste even when there is no other mouth problem.
Nose and Throat Problems
Since both the nose and throat are continuous with the mouth, any conditions in these areas may also cause a strange taste in the mouth. This includes conditions such as postnasal drip, sinusitis, tonsillitis, pharyngitis and even cancers in these areas. Sometimes the problem can lie further down the respiratory tract like with a lung abscess.
A number of stomach and esophagus problems can also cause a strange taste in the mouth. The more common of these conditions is gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) also known as acid reflux. The stomach acid can rise up to the mouth and this has a sour to bitter taste. Less commonly other conditions like gastritis and gastroparesis can also be responsible due to gases released by bacteria and decomposing food.
Diabetes can affect the sense of taste in various ways. Initially people who experience an elevation in the blood glucose levels may report a strange taste in the mouth. However, with long standing diabetes the nerves become irritated and damaged thereby leading to a diminished taste sensation. People with this nerve damage are also at risk of burns from very hot food and beverages.
Read more on diabetes.
A number of different drugs can alter the sense of taste. Some of these drugs may affect the transmission of nerve impulses responsible for taste, cause mouth dryness or alter the perception of taste stimuli. A range of drugs including antibiotics, acid-suppressing drugs and oral contraceptives can affect the sense of taste.
Dehydration is another possible cause of a strange taste in the mouth. This may occur for a number of reasons. Firstly dehydration leads to a dry mouth as saliva production is reduced. The other possible is that the abnormality of electrolyte levels due to dehydration can lead to disturbances in nerve impulses responsible for the taste sensation.
Remedies for Strange Taste in the Mouth
Depending on the cause, medical treatment may be necessary to treat the causative condition. However, at times simple dietary and lifestyle measures may be sufficient to ease the strange taste sensation in the mouth. Always speak to a doctor and consult with a dentist before attempting these dietary and lifestyle changes.
- Practise good oral hygiene. Brush the teeth t least twice daily and ensure that the tongue is also cleaned. Flossing and a mouth rinse are also necessary.
- Drink sufficient water daily. Adults need at least 68 ounces (2 liters) of water every day and even mild dehydration can cause disturbances in the taste sensation.
- Never stop medication that is suspected to be the cause of the strange taste in the mouth. However, speak to a doctor about the possible side effect.
- Try not to eat at least 3 hours before bedtime especially when a strange taste is more of a problem at night s this could be due to acid reflux.
- Reduce or avoid alcohol and caffeinated beverages like coffee due to its possible role in causing a strange taste in the mouth.
- Consult with a dentist at least twice in a year to ensure that dental problems are detected and treated as early as possible.