Have you ever woken up with a strange, unpleasant taste in your mouth that just won’t go away no matter how much you brush your teeth? Or maybe food and drinks simply don’t taste right lately? If so, you may be experiencing a taste disorder known as metallic mouth or ageusia. But what’s the difference between these two conditions? Keep reading as we dive into metallic mouth versus ageusia, their causes, and how to find relief.
What is a Metallic Mouth?
Metallic mouth, also known as dysgeusia or parageusia, refers to a persistent metallic, bitter, or foul taste in the mouth. The most common metal taste is described as coppery, but some people report sensations of tin, zinc, lead, aluminum, or other metals.
This unpleasant taste distortion can occur sporadically or be present all the time. It may affect your entire tongue or just certain areas. Many things can temporarily cause a metallic taste, like eating coins or metal fillings. But when it persists for weeks or longer with no apparent cause, it’s likely dysgeusia.
Common Causes of Metallic Mouth
A variety of health issues, medications, and lifestyle factors have been linked to metallic mouth syndrome:
- Medications – Certain antibiotics, antihistamines, anti-inflammatories, hypertension drugs, and chemotherapies are frequent offenders.
- Oral/dental problems – Improperly fitted fillings and crowns, gingivitis, and dry mouth can trigger a metal mouth.
- Respiratory infections – Colds, bronchitis, and sinusitis may alter taste buds.
- Nutritional deficiencies – Lack of zinc, iron, folate, niacin, or vitamins B6 and B12.
- Chronic conditions – Diabetes, Crohn’s, Celiac disease, liver disease, and kidney disease.
- Neurological issues – Head injuries, strokes, brain tumors, MS, and Parkinson’s.
- Pregnancy – Hormone changes during pregnancy commonly cause a metallic taste.
- Tobacco – Smoking is linked with parageusia.
- Radiation therapy – Head and neck radiation can damage taste buds and salivary glands.
- COVID-19 – Loss of taste and smell are common symptoms.
What is Ageusia?
Ageusia refers to a complete loss of taste. Just as people with anosmia lose their sense of smell, individuals with ageusia lose their sense of taste. They are unable to detect any tastes – sweet, sour, salty, bitter, or umami (savory).
Sometimes the loss of taste is accompanied by loss of smell, as the two senses are closely linked. When taste and smell are both lost, it’s called anosmia-ageusia.
People with ageusia report that food seems bland and flavorless. Some describe it as tasting like cardboard or nothing at all. Because taste and smell account for up to 90% of flavor perception, ageusia takes a major toll on one’s enjoyment of food and drink.
Common Causes of Ageusia
Some key factors that may cause ageusia include:
- Viral infections – Common cold, flu, sinus infections, and COVID-19 often lead to temporary loss of taste.
- Medications – Numerous prescription and over-the-counter meds have taste loss as a side effect.
- Radiation therapy – Damage to taste buds or salivary gland impairment.
- Injuries – Head trauma, surgery, or injuries to the tongue, nose, or mouth area.
- Neurological disorders – Strokes, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, brain tumors, and nerve damage.
- Autoimmune diseases – Sjogren’s syndrome, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and Crohn’s disease.
- Nutritional deficiencies – Particularly zinc, but also iron, niacin, folate, and vitamins B6 and B12.
Key Differences Between Metallic Mouth and Ageusia
Now that we’ve covered the basics of metallic mouth syndrome and complete ageusia, let’s summarize the main differences:
- Sensation – Metallic mouth causes taste distortion while ageusia causes total loss of taste.
- Onset – Metallic mouth tends to develop gradually while ageusia often starts suddenly.
- Severity – Ageusia is more severe as all taste is lost. A metallic mouth allows for some taste perception.
- Causes – Some overlap, but ageusia has stronger links to viral infections, injuries, strokes, and neurological conditions.
- Duration – Metallic mouth is often chronic while ageusia may be temporary if caused by a treatable condition.
- Treatment – Ageusia treatment focuses on the underlying cause, while metallic mouth treatments offer symptomatic relief.
Finding Relief from Metallic Mouth and Ageusia
Living with taste disorders can be frustrating, but various treatments can help reduce symptoms:
Metallic Mouth Relief
- Switching medications if they are the cause
- Improving oral hygiene and dental work
- Zinc supplements if deficient
- Sugar-free citrus candies to stimulate saliva or metallic taste oral rinse
- Chamomile tea mouth rinses
- Treating underlying illness or deficiency
- Smell training if caused by anosmia
- Oral hygiene and saliva production aids
- Adding texture and spice to enhance food flavors
- Zinc supplements if deficient
- Working with speech therapists or nutritionists
Having a persistent metallic taste or losing your sense of taste entirely significantly impacts daily life. However, understanding the differences between the metallic mouth and complete ageusia is the first step to finding relief. Identifying the root cause and consulting doctors allows for proper treatment so you can regain enjoyment of food and drink.