Quantcast

Help! My Mouth Tastes Salty All the Time

Published
May 20, 2012
Publication
HealthyWoman from Bottom Line
Source
Natasha Mirza, MD
Print
937

Three days before Thanksgiving, I suddenly developed a constant salty taste in my mouth that didn’t go away no matter how much I brushed and flossed my teeth, scraped my tongue, gargled with mouthwash or banished salty foods from my diet. Week after week, it persisted, driving me to distraction. I consulted my dentist, periodontist, internist, allergist and naturopath, all to no avail.

At the end of my rope, I went looking for an expert in the field. That’s when I called Natasha Mirza, MD, a professor in the department of otorhinolaryngology–head and neck surgery at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and a faculty member at the University of Pennsylvania Smell and Taste Center, both in Philadelphia.

Article Continues Below

She told me that I’m far from alone—in fact, she sees hundreds of patients each year who experience some version of this symptom. Some complain of a salty taste…a metallic taste…or a burning sensation in the mouth. Often there’s a medical explanation for their symptoms, but sometimes no cause can be found.

If you ever develop this problem, you’ll no doubt be as eager as I was to get to the bottom of it. Start by seeing your dentist, Dr. Mirza suggested—tooth decay, gum disease or an oral infection (such as thrush) could be the culprit. If no dental problem is detected, see your physician for a full physical exam.

Common underlying causes your doctor may investigate include…

  • A digestive disorder, such as gastroesophageal reflux disease, which may improve with dietary and lifestyle changes and/or medication.
  • A sinus infection, which could cause a salty postnasal drip. If the infection is bacterial (rather than viral), a short course of antibiotics may solve the taste problem.
  • Medication side effects. Blood pressure drugs, decongestants, antihistamines, antidepressants, sedatives and numerous other drugs can alter taste and dry out the mouth in some cases—so switching medications may help.
  • Hormonal fluctuations due to menopause. These may lead to degenerative alterations in certain small nerves in the mouth and trigger a phenomenon called burning mouth syndrome. This is characterized by taste disturbances, including “constantly feeling like you’ve just eaten chili peppers,” Dr. Mirza said. For some people, symptoms seem to ease with a daily dose of 20 mg to 30 mg of zinc. For maximum absorption, do not take zinc supplements with protein, bran or coffee. And avoid taking too high a dose, as that could cause side effects such as nausea, abdominal pain or diarrhea, Dr. Mirza cautioned.

Rarely, a salty taste or other taste disturbance may be a sign of…

  • Leakage of cerebrospinal fluid down the back of the throat, a possible complication of head surgery.
  • Paraneoplastic syndrome, a rare disorder among patients with breast, ovarian or other cancers. Substances produced by the tumor affect the nervous system, leading to sensory perception problems and other symptoms.
  • The chronic autoimmune disorder Sjögren’s syndrome, in which the immune system mistakenly attacks the body’s moisture-producing glands. This leads to dryness of the mouth, eyes, nasal passages and skin as well as joint pain, digestive upset and/or neurological problems.

If your doctor cannot determine the problem: Ask for a referral to a chemosensory center. There you may undergo an evaluation that includes a “sip, spit, and rinse” test, in which different chemicals are applied to different areas of your tongue. Your sense of smell will be evaluated as well, probably by “scratch-and-sniff” tests. Dr. Mirza explained, “Smell and taste are very closely linked. So in some cases, patients who perceive an odd taste actually have a problem with smell and don’t realize it.” For more info on what happens at chemosensory centers, visit the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center.

When an underlying cause is diagnosed, treating that problem may resolve the taste issue, as well. But what if the mystery remains? “It’s frustrating, I know. But there are two important things to note about such a condition. First, once all the scary possible causes are ruled out, it’s reassuring to know that a taste disorder is not life-threatening. Second, most such taste disturbances are relatively short-lived, lasting from three to 12 months. So try to be patient—time may take care of the problem,” Dr. Mirza said.

As for me? To mask the icky taste, I found it helpful to chew sugar-free gum sweetened with xylitol…spritz my mouth with a moisturizing spray (my favorite is Spry Rain Oral Mist)…and drink a lot of water. I also halted the daily antihistamine I had used for years to prevent allergy flare-ups and now I take the medicine only when my allergy symptoms get really bad. I’m relieved to report that, five months after the saltier-than-the-sea taste first appeared, it has finally faded from a constant aggravation to an occasional annoyance.

  • jill franke

    I’ve had a salty taste for about 10 years. Sweets are very bitter as well. I hate not being able to eat ANY food….

    • Hate salty mouth

      I have had a dry and very salty mouth for more than 30 years, sometimes it gets really bad that I want to die for an end.

  • rockjockpa

    I lost most of my sense of taste after a sinus infection and then 2 months later I have another bout of flu and the loss of taste has gone to a terribly strong salty taste. I have no appetite and nothing is appetizing.

  • Kim Lloyd

    Had a bone removed for better hearing. Now salty taste is driving me insane. My tongue also affected. Chewing gum not a help. Driving me insane

  • Elisabeth Moors

    My name is Liz and I live in South Devon. I was diagnosed
    with a tumour in the summer of 2013. I had a treatment radiotherapy &
    chemotherapy that finished in late November 2013. Shortly after this I was told
    the cancer was no longer there. However I was unable to swallow. Even a sip of
    water would get me coughing and bringing it back. The old term of ‘going down
    the wrong hole’ was true in my case. I was told there was nothing that could be
    done & I would feed etc through a rig in my tummy. I accepted this without
    too much concern, it would hamper some of the activities I used to enjoy but it
    was a price worth paying to be shot of the cancer.

    However in February 2015 (15 months after the end of the
    Ch/Rad) the dry mouth that had been a constant became salty also and I am
    finding it very difficult to cope. The constant dryness & saltiness is at
    times almost unbearable. I have tried several branded goods to assist
    (mouthwashes/sprays/toothpaste/patches/gel etc) and the ENT surgeon suggested
    zinc & vitamin B12, all without the required success. I am getting more and
    more depressed and have been prescribed anti-depressants.

    Please can someone help me? Has anyone experienced the same
    problem? Has anyone any suggestions, I am willing to try anything and listen to
    any well intentioned advice.

  • Mim

    I have had a salty taste in my mouth for almost 3 months. I have seen so many other people online who suffer the same thing without any answers. I may be able to shed some light. My dentist noticed I had several old amalgam fillings that he said appeared to be ‘leaking’ and needed to be replaced. I had the four replaced today and so far so good, haven’t noticed that salty taste all day. Worth considering for those who still don’t have an answer.