Anytime someone experiences salty taste in mouth symptoms, it’s a red flag. Although some of the things that can make your mouth taste salty aren’t horribly bad per se, other ones are. Remedies range from a quick fix like upping your flossing routine to more complex, like needing a root canal or gum disease treatment.
Make sure to check for any other symptoms accompanying the salty taste. Such as swollen gums, a pimple or blister on your gums next to a tooth, visible pus, or a loose tooth. If you can press down on a tooth and see pus develop at the gumline, that’s probably where the salty taste is coming from.
It’s not normal to have your mouth taste salty. When it does, you can typically tell that it’s coming from a specific area or tooth, rather than your entire mouth. But that doesn’t mean it always does. Depending on the exact symptoms you’re experiencing, a salty taste in your mouth now and then may not be anything to worry about. Your mouth is extremely sensitive, so being aware of various symptoms or warning signs can help you predict not just dental problems, but also those that tie back to your overall wellness. Here are some of the most common reasons why your mouth tastes salty:
Xerostomia (dry mouth) means you’re not getting enough saliva to keep your oral tissues lubricated. This can lead to an imbalance of the natural bacteria inside of your mouth. As a result, it can change the way your mouth tastes and even the smell of your breath.
Xerostomia is frequently caused by medication, dehydration, and autoimmune disorders. Drinking plenty of water is extremely important. You’ll probably also want to use saliva substitutes such as sprays or mouth drops to keep your oral mucosa lubricated.
Maybe you’re sick with a stomach bug, working out in the heat of the day, or just aren’t drinking enough water. Dehydration can make you dizzy, confused, and most obviously, you probably aren’t urinating as much as you should. If you do go to the bathroom, there’s a good chance that your urine will be darker than normal.
Get to drinking! Water, of course. Electrolytes can help too. Normally tap water is fine to stay hydrated unless you’re working out at extreme levels. Severe dehydration usually has to be treated with an IV drip at the hospital.
Sometimes blood in the mouth can cause a salty or metallic taste. You may not even know your gums are bleeding except for your mouth tastes salty or sour.
Oral bleeding and bleeding gums usually come from things like gum disease, food caught between teeth, or tooth decay next to the gumlines. Typically, these types of isolated infections will cause the bad taste in your mouth to come from one specific area. Or the bleeding could be from a traumatic injury—such as cutting your mouth on a piece of hard food, or an athletic accident—causing heavier short-term bleeding.
The first thing your dentist is going to check for if you tell them you have a salty taste in mouth is an infected tooth. Anytime there are areas of drainage or inflammation coming from around infected teeth, there’s a chance for there to be a salty taste too.
Tooth infections like dental abscesses and periodontal disease are known for creating a salty taste in mouth. Usually, you can spot some pus or drainage, too. The white, yellowish, or clear liquid may come and go, depending on how inflamed the area is. You may notice more of a salty taste when pressing against the gums or your tooth. Pain isn’t always present, but it can be. There will probably also be redness and swelling around that area of your mouth.
See your dentist for a firm treatment plan. You may need periodontal treatment like a deep cleaning, or a root canal if the tooth is abscessed. If you don’t go to the dentist, this infection will only get worse and eventually cause you to lose your tooth. Plus, neighboring teeth can also get infected. Although your dentist may prescribe an antibiotic for super-bad infections, you’ll still need to treat the source of the disease to keep it from flaring back up again.
Having a “post-nasal drip”, AKA sinus drainage, can cause a bad taste in the back of the throat that’s hard to get rid of. Kids with seasonal allergies or sinus infections can be the worst since they don’t always communicate their symptoms well.
Symptoms of sinus issues like congestion and allergies are easy to spot. Between the sniffing, sneezing and post nasal drip, you probably feel the drainage in the back of your throat too. Most sinus infections are also accompanied by chronic bad breath.
Rinsing with warm salt water or an essential oil mouth rinse can help remove some of the bacteria in the back of your throat (what’s responsible for building up all that gunky smell and taste.) Be sure to work with your physician to use a prescription or over-the-counter medication to help manage your symptoms. Just note that anything that dries up your sinuses will also dry out your mouth.
Heartburn and acid reflux disease symptoms vary from person to person. Some people will experience excruciating pain, while others never notice any burning symptoms. Left untreated, it’s common to see enamel erosion—such as small little shallow areas in the cusps of your teeth—because of all the acid in your mouth.
Work with your physician and always take medication as directed. Don’t ignore the symptoms simply because you’re able to tolerate them. In the meantime, supplement with a fluoride mouth rinse to help remineralize any areas of acid erosion.
People with specific types of nutritional or vitamin deficiencies can be especially sensitive to salt or seem to have their mouth taste salty more often than normal. Being deficient in zinc, vitamin B 12, and folate (folic acid) can all cause a salty taste.
Nutritional deficiencies can impact you in various ways, depending on what you’re lacking. It’s common to see symptoms of fatigue, mood swings, and even abnormal heartbeats. If you’re low on zinc, it can make foods taste saltier than normal. There can even be compounding side-effects, such as if you’re deficient in folic acid you can also develop anemia.
Adjusting your diet is the best way to manage nutritional deficiencies. For instance, dark green vegetables and citrus fruits are good sources of folate. But vitamins like B12 may be easier to get through a supplement (nasal sprays are available.)
Sjögren syndrome is an autoimmune disorder that can cause dry skin, rashes, and dry out both your eyes and mouth. The dryer oral tissues change the way things taste, which can make food taste saltier than it actually is. Burning mouth syndrome may also occur.
People with autoimmune diseases like Sjögren syndrome need to work with their physicians to manage their condition. As far as your mouth goes, it’s best to drink plenty of water, use alcohol-free mouthwashes, and take prescription medications as directed. Just like lupus or rheumatoid arthritis, treating Sjögren syndrome is more about management than it is trying to get rid of a disease.
Women going through menses, pregnancy, and menopause frequently develop oral side effects such as inflammation or bleeding gums. A salty taste is also common during these periods of hormonal change.
Most of the time the more obvious symptoms include things like mood changes, water retention, and even gingivitis. Some women have localized tumor-like growths swell up on their gumlines (pyogenic granulomas.) With any extra bleeding in their mouth, it’s normal to experience a metallic or salty taste throughout the day.
The good news is that most hormone-induced gum problems are temporary. They typically tend to level back out once hormone levels stabilize, such as after pregnancy/breastfeeding or once your period is over. If they don’t, you may want to check with your physician to have your hormone levels checked.
A lot of medications that we take will change the way our mouth feels. It doesn’t matter if it’s a prescription medication or one that you buy over-the-counter. Dry mouth is the most common, but having a dry mouth can also cause things to taste weird.
You’ll probably start to notice dry mouth or salty/metallic tastes within a few days to a week of taking your new medication.
This is one of those “lesser of two evil” scenarios. You don’t want to quit taking your medication unless directed to do so by your doctor. Be sure to communicate with your physician to see if alternative medications are available.
Living with cancer puts you at an increased risk for dry mouth and tooth loss. Chemotherapy and radiation impact other tissues in your body, particularly your saliva glands. In turn, your mouth usually begins to dry out and symptoms of burning mouth syndrome, metallic, and salty taste in mouth are common.
Any cancer patient who is about to undergo treatment—be it chemo or radiation—will want to communicate closely with their dental team ahead of time. Chances are a saliva substitute and fluoride prescription will be necessary.
Just like dehydration or using alcohol, smoking dries out your mouth. In fact, it causes blood vessels to atrophy and not be able to feed your oral mucosa the nutrients they need to stay healthy. In turn, your tongue starts to taste things differently.
Smokers tend to have dry and rough mucosa throughout their mouth—especially in their palate—with some tissues looking whiter instead of pink. Your tongue may also have white, brown, or black residue across the surface because of all the smoke you’re inhaling. When your taste buds are covered up with residue, it changes which tastes you’re sensitive to.
Giving up habits like smoking can be quite a process. Talk to your doctor or dentist about ways to cut back. Patches, gums, mindfulness, and exercise are all great places to start.
Have you ever noticed how dry your mouth feels before bed or when you wake up in the morning after enjoying a few evening beers/hard seltzers/glasses of wine? Alcohol is a drying agent, so it changes your mucosa and saliva levels, which in turn can make you more sensitive to salty foods.
A salty taste in mouth after drinking alcohol is usually temporary. Usually, you’ll notice it immediately after (like if you’re eating dinner with friends) or the next morning when it’s time for breakfast. Most symptoms are usually gone within 24 hours.
After you drink something with alcohol in it, go rinse your mouth out at the sink. You can also combat dry mouth by drinking water alongside or between your adult beverages. Hydration is key. Try to avoid eating salty foods, which can make symptoms worse.
Assuming you’re going to talk to your dentist or primary care physician about your salty-tasting saliva, there are also things you can do at home to manage symptoms in the meantime. Most of them are in line with good oral hygiene practices to help balance out the healthy flora inside your mouth. Making sure you have enough “good” bacteria, getting rid of the “bad” stuff, and addressing the source of the salty taste can get things back to normal without any major issues. Here are some things to try:
Make sure you’re getting rid of plaque buildup and food debris by brushing at least twice a day and flossing once daily. Don’t rush! If you have gum pockets, bridges, or hard-to-clean areas, consider using a water flosser.
An alcohol-free, essential oil-based mouthwash is great for balancing your breath. Since alcohol can dry your mouth out, be sure to read the label.
Your mouth is one of the first things to dry out when you’re not hydrated enough. In the winter months especially, most of us don’t drink enough water. Make a hydration goal and stick to it.
Both alcoholic and caffeinated beverages can dry out your mouth. But especially alcoholic drinks. Consider cutting back on how often you choose to indulge.
Tobacco use—whether it’s cigarettes, vaping, or snuff—changes your oral tissues. It also puts you at an increased risk of dental disease.
Increase your intake of fresh vegetables, whole grains, and Omega-3 fatty acids (like fish.) Eating a lot of processed carbs will feed dental plaque and bad breath.
Quickly freshen up your breath with a xylitol-based mint or gum. Xylitol helps reduce bad bacteria whereas other types of sweeteners can actually feed them.
Ignoring any bad taste in your mouth could lead to some serious side effects. Whether it’s simply a tooth that’s going bad or an undiagnosed medical condition, your mouth is sometimes one of the first places to figure out something is wrong with your body. Even an abscessed tooth can develop into a major brain infection, requiring hospitalization. And if your mouth tastes salty because of an intestinal problem or disease, ignoring the warning signs could potentially be life-threatening if you wait too long to deal with them.
The good news is that most of the time having a salty taste in mouth/around a tooth is isolated to a specific dental issue. But ignoring it will mean your treatment options gradually become more expensive because of the complexity of the infection.
Whether you have a salty taste in your mouth or something minor like sore gums, the first thing you usually want to do is ramp up your oral hygiene routine. Your dentist will want you to make sure you’re brushing twice a day for a minimum of two minutes, focusing particularly along the gumlines. On top of that, make sure you’re flossing down between the teeth and under the gumlines against each tooth. Do that every day for at least two weeks.
If you don’t see any improvement or the condition worsens in the meantime, then it’s time to schedule an appointment with your dentist. Additionally, if you see pus draining anywhere in your mouth—be it the gumlines or from a small pimple/sore—go see your dentist. You can still try cleaning that area a couple of times first since food lodged between the teeth could cause temporary inflammation and discomfort. Sores or a salty taste in mouth that pops up unexpectedly for no apparent reason probably also needs to be examined by your dental provider.
If your mouth tastes salty, it could be anything from an abscess to a medical issue. Being aware of your oral health and practicing good oral hygiene can reduce the symptoms of a salty taste in mouth. But if that doesn’t help or you notice pus coming from a specific area or tooth, there’s likely more at play than just some gingivitis. Be sure to communicate with your dentist to have them examine the area before something major starts to develop. The earlier you get care, the better the chance you have to avoid a painful emergency and save your smile.
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