One of the more unusual symptoms of pregnancy can be a strange metallic taste in the mouth. This is often described as having a mouthful of loose change, or sucking on a hand rail. It can also present as a sour, foul or rancid taste which permeates the taste of food and mouth, even when not eating or drinking.
Dysgeusia is the correct name for this distortion in a sense of taste, though some people refer to it as metal mouth . During pregnancy, dysgeusia is generally caused by pregnancy hormones, especially in the first trimester. However, some women experience changes in taste throughout their entire pregnancy.
Pregnant women can describe dysgeusia as an almost vague, unpleasant taste they may find difficult to explain. Dysgeusia can be mild or quite pronounced, causing changes in the way they view foods they usually love, and develop cravings for tastes they don t usually enjoy.
Pregnancy is not the only cause for dysgeusia. Infection of the mouth, sinuses, upper respiratory tract or tooth infection can all contribute. Conditions of the gut, kidney or liver disease, diabetes and nutritional deficiencies are also associated with changes in taste.
When am I likely to have a metallic taste in my mouth?
Dysgeusia commonly occurs in the first trimester and usually goes away as the pregnancy progresses. It's an unfortunate case of bad timing that dysgeusia occurs just at the time pregnancy nausea is more likely. Dealing with a queasy stomach is bad enough, but having a foul metallic taste in the mouth can really top it off.
For some pregnant women, successfully managing their nausea helps to improve the sensation in their mouth. For others, there seems to be no connection, and each is just as challenging, with or without the other symptom.
What causes dysgeusia?
Dysgeusia is most commonly due to pregnancy hormones, especially oestrogen. This is one of the hormones which is particularly high during pregnancy. Oestrogen 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 too. This is why the taste of food when pregnant can vary so much. One week something tastes delicious and the next, well, it's something else entirely.
Another cause for dysgeusia 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 ramp up. If something smells particularly strong, unpleasant or just off , then chances are the metallic taste in your mouth during pregnancy will increase as well.
Dysgeusia can also be caused by water retention. This occurs across all the body systems, including the cells in the mouth and taste buds.
What's the point of dysgeusia?
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 dysgeusia, but it can still occur even when food isn t being eaten and when foods are perfectly safe. Perhaps it is one of those unexplained mysteries.
Another hypothesis 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 dysgeusia?
Dysgeusia can be hard to control and even harder to stop completely. It does tend to settle as pregnancy progresses, with time you're bound to feel it's less pronounced. Generally there is a distinct improvement after the first trimester when hormones have settled and the body has adjusted to pregnancy.
Foods and sauces which increase saliva flow generally help. This increase helps to wash away the sensation. But for women who are already find they're producing too much saliva and are already irritated by this, then increasing it further may not appeal.
Tips to help manage metallic taste in mouth during pregnancy
- 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. NB check with your pharmacist to ensure mouthwash is not potentially harmful to the baby, many contain alcohol.
- Drinking glasses of plain water through the day, each with a (small) 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 like pickles, gherkins, olives, chutneys and sauces can also help.
- Salt and vinegar potato chips. But be careful about not having too many, they're very morish!
- Green apples.
- Sour lollies.
- Chewing sugarless gum.
- A mouth wash made up with warm water and salt can be helpful.
Will I have a metallic taste in my mouth the whole pregnancy?
Generally dysgeusia settles after the first trimester however, some women find they have it for their entire pregnancy.
Should I see my dentist?
During pregnancy, a general dental check-up is always recommended. There may be contributing tooth or gum issues adding to the metallic taste in your mouth. See your dentist for an assessment.
Will the metallic taste in my mouth harm my baby?
There is no proven link between dysgeusia and foetal harm. Though unpleasant, it's not harmful to a pregnant mother or her baby.
Written and reviewed by Jane Barry, midwife and child health nurse on 12/01/20
Last Published* November, 2021
*Please note that the published date may not be the same as the date that the content was created and that information above may have changed since.