One of the more unusual symptoms of pregnancy can be a strange metallic taste in the mouth. When this first appears it can be an almost vague, unpleasant taste which is difficult to describe. But it is very real and is so common that it actually has a name – Dysgeusia. Some people refer to this by its sensation and just call it “metal mouth”.
When is Dysgeusia likely to occur?
Dysgeusia commonly occurs in the first trimester and usually goes away as the pregnancy progresses. The taste or sensation is described as having a mouthful of loose change, or sucking on a hand rail. It can also present as a sour taste which permeates the taste of food and even occurs when your mouth is empty.
It’s an unfortunate case of bad timing that Dysgeusia occurs just at the time when pregnancy nausea is more likely. As if dealing with a queasy stomach isn’t enough, having a foul metallic taste in the mouth can really top it off. For some women though, dealing successfully with the nausea really helps to improve the sensation in their mouth. For others, there seems to be no link and each is just as challenging, with or without the other symptom at the same time.
What causes Dysgeusia?
Dysgeusia is most commonly due to pregnancy hormones, especially oestrogen. This is one of the female hormones that is particularly high during pregnancy. This hormone normally plays an important role in our perception of taste, food cravings and general enjoyment of food. Because the level of oestrogen varies so much during pregnancy, the sense of taste can change along with it. This is why the taste of food when you’re pregnant can vary so much. One week something tastes delicious and the next, well, it’s something else entirely.
Another cause for metal mouth can be the connection between smell and taste. During pregnancy, it is common for women to develop a more acute sense of smell. The relationship between smell and taste is well known, but during pregnancy this can really be turned up a few notches. If something smells particularly strong, unpleasant or just “off”, then chances are the metallic taste in your mouth will increase as well.
Metal mouth or Dysgeusia can also be caused by water retention. This occurs across all the body systems, and the cells in the mouth are not immune, in particular the taste buds, which are highly concentrated on the tongue.
Some people believe that Dysgeusia is a safeguard against pregnant women eating foods which could potentially harm her or the baby. This mechanism of being repelled by certain foods may account for metal mouth, but it can still occur even when food isn’t being eaten and when foods are perfectly safe. Perhaps it is just one of those unexplained mysteries.
Another theory is that Dysgeusia serves as a protective mechanism to ensure a pregnant mother eats sufficient trace elements of calcium, sodium and iron.
What can I do about it?
Dysgeusia can be hard to control and even harder to stop. It does tend to settle as pregnancy progresses, so with time you’re bound to feel some degree of ease. Generally there is a distinct improvement after the first trimester when hormones have settled down and the body has adjusted to the pregnant state.
However, some women find they have Dysgeusia for their entire pregnancy, and just need to learn to live with it.
Foods and sauces that increase saliva flow generally help – the increase in saliva helps to “wash away” the sensation – but women who are already producing too much saliva and are already irritated by this, may find this method unappealing.
Some useful tips:
Frequent tooth brushing with particularly minty flavoured toothpaste.
Brushing the tongue with a toothbrush.
Flossing the teeth every day. Pay particular attention to the gum margins where food and bacteria collect.
Using a mouthwash and gargling in-between tooth brushing. Check with your pharmacist to ensure your mouthwash is not potentially harmful to your baby, as many contain alcohol
Drinking glasses of plain water through the day, each with a squeeze of fresh lemon or lime juice.
Sipping on ice cold water and ice chips may help. Try freezing some with lemon juice added or a little cordial or fruit juice.
Citrus foods such as oranges, grapefruit, lemons, pineapple and kiwi-fruit can be helpful
Vinegar-soaked foods such as pickles, gherkins, olives, chutneys and sauces can also help
Salt and vinegar potato chips. But be careful not to overdo it!
Chewing sugarless gum
A mouthwash made up with warm water and salt can be beneficial. Dissolve ½ teaspoon of table salt in a glass of warm water, rinse and gargle in your mouth for as long as comfortable and spit out.
Baking soda in the ratio of ¼ teaspoon in a glass of warm water can help to neutralise the acid (Ph) level in the mouth.
Make sure you visit your dentist at least twice during your pregnancy. Poor oral hygiene can lead to Dysgeusia and even premature labour. Follow your dentist’s recommendations for maintaining healthy teeth and gums.
Spicy foods can override the metallic taste and blast them into submission. But be mindful that spices such as curries, garlic and greasy foods can lead to heartburn and indigestion.
Avoid eating fish and strong smelling seafood.
Any foods that help to increase saliva production may be useful
What else can I do to stop the metallic taste in my mouth?
Some pregnancy vitamins are known to increase the metallic taste and leave a generally unpleasant taste in the mouth. Those with vitamin B12 and zinc can be especially irritating, in which case you may benefit from changing your pre-natal vitamins. Speak with your healthcare practitioner or pharmacist about alternatives.
Other contributing factors can be antibiotics and anti-depressants. Though sometimes it’s essential that these are taken, there may be some leeway in terms of dosage – speak with your prescribing doctor if you are bothered by Dysgeusia or if it’s affecting your pregnancy experience.
Dehydration can also contribute to that metallic taste. The general recommendation for pregnant women is to drink around 2.5 litres or more of plain water every day. An excessively high intake of caffeine can cause dehydration, so try to limit your intake and instead, drink plain water or decaffeinated herbal teas.
A metallic taste in the mouth can also be due to the following:
Problems with the liver, specifically when jaundiced
Tooth decay, periodontal disease, gum inflammation (gingivitis)
Postnasal drip, a cold or the flu
Tonsillitis or other infection of the throat or mouth
Mercury, Iodine or lead poisoning
Heartburn, indigestion or gastro-oesophageal reflux
Inflammation of the stomach – gastritis
Fish poisoning specifically with Scombrotoxic toxicity
High blood pressure or gestational hypertension
Sexually transmitted diseases
Remember, Dysgeusia generally settles after the first trimester of pregnancy, and in the vast majority of pregnant women it is not a symptom of anything dangerous.
In very rare cases, Dysgeusia is a symptom of oral cancer. If you are really bothered by it, then it is essential to see your dentist.