13 Things That Can Cause a Metallic Taste in Your Mouth
Whether it's a respiratory infection (including Covid-19), pregnancy, a medical condition, or certain supplements, there are many reasons you can have a metallic taste in your mouth.
Why do I have a metallic taste in my mouth?
If you’ve ever rushed to rinse your mouth out because it suddenly tastes like pennies, you’re not alone. People experience a metallic taste for a variety of reasons, from sinus infections to chemotherapy.
It’s estimated that 15 percent of U.S. adults experience some type of disordered taste or smell, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
Because taste and smell are so intertwined—your preference for a certain food is usually based on both aroma and flavor—it can be difficult to determine whether a mouth that tastes like metal can be blamed on your taste buds or nose.
To help you root out the reason for the metallic taste—and figure out how to get rid of it—we have rounded up the latest research on the causes and treatments of a mouth that tastes like metal.
What can cause a metallic taste?
Most cases of a lingering metallic taste stem from injuries or infections, according to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. However, it’s also possible to have a lifelong taste disorder.
“A metallic taste can be caused by a variety of reasons, including medications or supplements, sinus infections, oral hygiene, or even pregnancy,” says Natasha Bhuyan, MD, an evidence-based provider at One Medical and clinical assistant professor at the University of Arizona College of Medicine in Phoenix, Arizona.
These are many possible causes of metallic taste, which we unpack in detail below.
You have poor oral hygiene
Poor oral hygiene could be one simple reason there is a metallic taste in your mouth, according to Isabel Garcia, DDS, a faculty member and practice leader at Touro College of Dental Medicine in Hawthorne, New York, where she oversees the clinical training of dental students.
Not taking care of or cleaning your teeth could lead to gingivitis and periodontitis. According to Garcia, these beginning stages of gum disease could cause metal mouth.
Forty-seven percent of U.S. adults older than 30 have some degree of periodontal disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). A metallic taste might be your first warning sign, though you will probably also have symptoms like bad breath, tender gums, or sensitive teeth.
“Visiting your dentist every six months for a checkup and cleaning keeps you updated on the state of your oral health while also allowing an opportunity for any suggestions on how to create and maintain better health habits that are specific to you,” Garcia says.
Registered dietitian nutritionist Vicki Shanta Retelny, host of the “Nourishing Notes” podcast, also recommends cleaning your tongue to get rid of unpleasant tastes.
You have a sinus infection, allergies, upper respiratory infection, or cold
The congestion and mucus associated with respiratory infections may cause a foul or metallic taste in the mouth.
“In this situation, mucus from the nose and throat will be tasted on the tongue,” says Lisa Lewis, MD, a pediatrician in Fort Worth, Texas.
These sinus problems could include anything from the common cold and sinus infections to nasal polyps.
People with chronic sinusitis often experience unpleasant or metallic tastes. A study of 68 such patients in the International Forum of Allergy & Rhinology found that a metallic taste was particularly common among men, seniors, and frequent smokers.
So, why does mucus in your nose trigger a metallic taste in your mouth? It’s because up to 90 percent of flavor actually comes from your sense of smell, according to research published in the medical journal Flavour.
A stuffy nose can change your perception of flavor, making it seem like your mouth has a sour or metallic taste.
You have or had Covid-19, or are reacting to the vaccine
Covid-19 causes upper respiratory tract symptoms, and it may also cause a loss of taste and smell.
Even after the infection resolves, food may not taste quite right.
“Peppermint essential oil smells like acetone; my little puppy smells like chalk; citrus fruit tastes like gasoline or kerosene; animal protein tastes like metal; red wine tastes like disinfectant; red bell pepper tastes like liquid smoke,” Amy Wright told The Healthy in a previous interview. After being admitted to the hospital in March of 2020 for Covid-19, Wright had lingering long-Covid symptoms.
She’s not the only one to experience a metallic taste in the mouth after Covid-19.
A 2020 case study in BMJ Case Reports found that one person with Covid-19 in China initially had a loss of taste and smell before developing other flu-like symptoms such as coughing. And they too described food as tasting bland and metallic.
Even if you haven’t had Covid-19, there’s another way you might experience a metallic taste in the mouth related to this disease—the Covid-19 vaccine.
NBC News reported that some people are experiencing an immediate metallic taste in their mouth right after getting the Covid-19 vaccine. Experts say it’s rare and typically goes away the same day, according to the NBC report
However, if you continue to feel a metallic taste in your mouth or other taste changes, pay attention to any other possible cold-like symptoms. This might be a sign of Covid-19 infection and not a reaction to the vaccine.
You’re taking certain medications
The most common cause of a metallic taste in the mouth is medications. Antibiotics, antihistamines, over-the-counter supplements, and blood pressure medications are all known for causing this taste side effect.
Why? Dr. Lewis explains that the substances are released and excreted in the saliva when the body ingests and absorbs medication. The end result is often a metallic taste in the mouth.
“Commonly, vitamin supplements that contain iron, chromium, calcium, and zinc cause a metallic taste in the mouth,” she says. “This side effect may also be with antibiotics and neurologic and cardiac medications.”
“Lithium is a classic,” says Dr. Bhuyan. “Other antidepressants, antibiotics, and even medicine for gout can be culprits.”
Dr. Lewis adds that a common medication side effect is dry mouth, which could also cause a foul or metallic taste.
“Cold lozenges made with zinc can cause a temporary metallic taste, but it goes away after the lozenge dissolves,” Shanta Retelny explains. The same is true of iron supplements, which have a distinct iron taste.
You have a zinc deficiency or an excess of zinc
Dysgeusia, which is an abnormal or impaired sense of taste, could be caused by an excess or lack of zinc, says Kristin Koskinen, a dietitian nutritionist in Richland, Washington.
Malnutrition, which might include a zinc deficiency, may slow cell renewal, resulting in taste changes, according to Koskinen. On the other hand, people who take too much zinc through supplements could experience nausea, abdominal distress, or dysgeusia—in the form of that pesky metallic taste, Koskinen says.
Changes in your sense of taste are common during pregnancy.
Nesochi Okeke-Igbokwe, MD, a physician and health and wellness expert in New York, says that these changes to your taste buds may be due to some of the hormonal changes that occur during pregnancy. This usually happens during the first trimester and typically subsides in the second.
Shanta Retelny adds that both prenatal vitamins and early pregnancy can make your mouth taste like metal. The good news? “It goes away quickly,” she says.
You’ve undergone chemotherapy
In addition to nausea, a common complaint of cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy is a metallic taste in the mouth.
Many cancer survivors can commiserate about the ubiquitous “metal mouth” triggered by chemotherapy and other cancer treatments. In fact, between 10 and 78 percent of cancer patients experience this phenomenon, a study published in Cancer Treatment Review.
Here’s why: Some bitter medicines injected into your bloodstream can make their way into your saliva, too, causing metal mouth. The resulting metallic taste could be just one of the reasons you’re losing your appetite.
You have pine nut syndrome
Have you ever eaten something that leaves your mouth with a bitter aftertaste for hours? What about weeks? A 2013 report in the medical journal Food Chemical Toxicology outlined 501 complaints of a long-lasting metallic aftertaste from pine nuts.
Interestingly enough, researchers did not find that the metallic taste was related to a pine nut allergy. Rather, the common thread was the consumption of a specific type of pine nut: Pinus armandii. So if you love eating pine nuts but hate their aftertaste, try a different variety.
You have mercury poisoning
One side effect of mercury poisoning is a metallic taste in your mouth, according to Dr. Okeke-Igbokwe.
That said, more severe symptoms, such as neurological issues, are more concerning. Exposure to mercury could stem from working in an industrial job or from eating methylmercury-contaminated fish, she adds.
“The bottom line is that there are various modes in which one may become exposed to mercury, and this exposure may have some deleterious effects on the body,” Dr. Okeke-Igbokwe says.
“It’s definitely important to recognize some of the symptoms of mercury toxicity so that you know when it is necessary to seek out medical help.”
You have liver or kidney disease
Although rare, liver or kidney disease could cause a metallic taste in your mouth, too. According to Dr. Lewis, that’s because these conditions create a buildup of chemicals in the body.
“These chemicals are released into the saliva, causing a metallic taste,” she says. “For example, patients with severe kidney disease will have excess production of ammonia in the saliva, causing a metallic taste in the mouth.”
This can cause a variety of oral symptoms, according to a review in the Saudi Dental Journal. Unfortunately, one of those symptoms is a mouth that tastes like metal, according to a report in the European Archives of Oto-Rhino-Laryngology.
Other symptoms of kidney disease include:
- bloody urine
- unexplained weight loss
- swollen ankles
If the metallic taste in your mouth can be traced to chronic kidney disease, treatment might include medical interventions such as dialysis.
You have a neurological disorder
Neurological disorders affect your nervous system, which helps relay sights, smells, tastes, and sounds to your brain. These diseases can disrupt your sense of flavor, making your mouth seem metallic “due to changes in taste,” according to Shanta Retelny.
Research also supports this.
In a case study of a man with a rare disease called facial onset sensory and motor neuronopathy (FOSMN), a change in taste was one of the patient’s first symptoms, according to a report in the journal BMC Neurology.
You recently had middle ear surgery
If you experienced premature hearing loss, your doctor might have suggested surgery to fix the issue.
Fortunately, there might be medications to treat this issue. In one case study published in the American Journal of Otolaryngology and Head and Neck Surgery, a patient found relief after taking an antidepressant called amitriptyline.
If you think you’re experiencing a metallic taste due to nerve damage, talk to your doctor about possible treatments that might work for you.
You could have metal fume fever
A metallic taste in your mouth can be a side effect of breathing in metal fumes, according to the National Organization for Rare Disorders.
This can occur in welding centers or metal manufacturing facilities with poor ventilation. Fortunately, symptoms like chills, fever, and a metallic taste often dissipate within hours of escaping to a well-ventilated area.
If you believe you’ve been exposed to heavy metal or any metal fumes for a prolonged period of time, seek medical attention to determine any long-term impact on health.
How to diagnose the problem
If the metallic taste in your mouth doesn’t go away after a day or two, it’s time to call your doctor.
Rather than using a quick fix like mouthwash or mints, a medical professional will discuss your medical history, current medications, and supplements, and possibly examine your body for obvious signs of a relevant health condition.
Your treatment will depend on the underlying cause of the metallic taste.
“Since there are so many different causes of tasting metal, it’s important to see a primary care provider so they can determine the next best steps to get your tastebuds feeling metal-free,” Dr. Bhuyan says.
Treatments for a mouth that tastes like metal
The best way to get rid of a metallic taste in your mouth is to determine what’s causing it in the first place.
If the cause is related to something you consume
If the taste is due to a medicine, multivitamin, or pine nuts, the flavor will dissipate if you stop consuming the culprit.
However, you should never stop taking prescription medication or deviate from the prescribed amount without talking to your doctor.
If the cause is related to your environment
If your mouth tastes like metal because of heavy metal poisoning or breathing in metal fumes, your first step should be to step into a well-ventilated area.
The next course of action is contacting your doctor to determine your level of toxic exposure and a possible treatment plan.
If the cause is medical
Does your mouth taste like metal because you have a disease or dental issue? Then the solution begins with treatment for the underlying cause.
If your mouth tastes like pennies because you’re pregnant, take heart—this unsettling side effect should subside by the second trimester.
While you wait for a diagnosis and treatment plan from a medical professional, these home remedies and might help:
- Brush your teeth twice a day, as recommended by the American Dental Association.
- Try chewing sugar-free gum or mints between meals.
- Drink water regularly throughout the day.
“Staying hydrated can help decrease any foul tastes in the mouth,” Shanta Retelny says.
- Food and Chemical Toxicology: "An Investigational Report Into the Causes of Pine Mouth Events in US Consumers."
- Kristin Koskinen, RDN, dietitian nutritionist, Richland, Washington
- Isabel Garcia, DDS, practice leader at Touro College of Dental Medicine, Hawthorne, New York
- Nesochi Okeke-Igbokwe, MD, physician, New York
- Lisa Lewis, MD, pediatrician, Fort Worth, Texas
- Vicki Shanta Retelny, RDN, LDN, host the "Nourishing Notes" podcast
- Natasha Bhuyan, MD, a physician at One Medical and clinical assistant professor at the University of Arizona College of Medicine in Phoenix, Arizona
- American Dental Association: "Brushing"
- National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research: "Taste Disorders"
- National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders: "Taste Disorders"
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): "Periodontal Disease"
- International Forum of Allergy & Rhinology: "Taste Impairment in Chronic Rhinosinusitis"
- Flavour: "Just how much of what we taste derives from the sense of smell?"
- National Health Services (UK): "Chronic kidney diesase"
- Food Authority: "Pine nuts and pine mouth"
- European Archives of Oto-Rhino-Laryngology: "Otorhinolaryngological dysfunctions induced by chronic kidney disease in pre- and post-transplant stages"
- National Organization of Rare Diseases: "Heavy Metal Poisoning"
- Food Chemical Toxology: "An investigational report into the causes of pine mouth events in US consumers"
- Cancer Treatment Review: "Metallic taste in cancer patients treated with chemotherapy"
- BMC Neurology: "Taste disorder in facial onset sensory and motor neuronopathy: a case report"
- Aurus Nasis Larynx: "Taste function after section of chorda tympani nerve in middle ear surgery"
- Otol Neurotology: "Chorda tympani nerve function after middle ear surgery"
- American Journal of Otolaryngology: "Successful treatment of dysgeusia after middle-ear surgery with amitriptyline: Case report"
- BMJ Case Reports: "Hypogeusia as the initial presenting symptom of COVID-19"
- NBC News: "Metal taste side effect reported after Pfizer Covid-19 vaccination"