Sour Taste in Your Mouth? Causes and Solutions…

A sour taste in your mouth can be a thoroughly unpleasant experience. This is especially so in cases where none of the standard remedies seem to help, and where the problem persists over a long period of time.

As it turns out there are a range of possible causes of such a problem, though for each one there is an effective solution. If you’ve arrived looking for a cure to the sour taste in your mouth then take heed!

Causes of a Sour Taste in Your Mouth

There are a range of possible causes of a sour taste in the mouth, including significant dietary changes, fluctuations in hormone levels or even some medications (chemotherapy patients, for example, often experience a bitter, metallic taste after treatment).

However of all the possible causes there are two which are most likely; these are GERD and oral hygiene issues.

GERD and Halitosis

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (or GERD) is alternatively known as “acid reflux”. Quite simply the muscle (sphincter) which closes off the stomach – and the acid it contains – opens inappropriately. In doing so, stomach acids are able to make their way up the oesophagus, sometimes reaching the mouth.

This has a number of knock-on effects. Firstly, the acid itself tends to produce a bitter or sour taste in the mouth, sometimes getting worse shortly after eating.

Additionally, however, these gastric juices can alter the pH of the oral cavity, which allow sulphur-producing bacteria to proliferate. As the bacteria digest excess food particles and sloughed cells within the mouth, so they produce Volatile Sulphur Compounds (VSCs) which can lead not just to an unpleasant taste but also bad breath.

A study in 2007(1) found that 55% of GERD sufferers studied also experienced bad breath, and concluded that halitosis is “significantly associated with the occurrence of heartburn… and sour taste”. A similar study the same year(2) also reported “clear evidence for an association between GERD and halitosis”.

This regurgitation of gastric juices can have one further impact; that of dental erosion. The acidic nature of the stomach acids, combined with increased bacterial growth, means that tooth enamel can sometimes decline, leading to increased chances of decay(3).

As a result, a sour taste in the mouth caused by GERD can be quite an unpleasant condition; little wonder then that GERD has been associated with poor emotional well-being(4).

Oral Hygiene Concerns

Secondarily, or in addition, oral health issues may also contribute to a sour taste in the mouth. When sulphur-producing bacteria cultures grow, such as in the case of tooth decay or GERD, the sulphur gases they produce tend to be acidic in nature. This change of oral pH can have an impact on both breath freshness and taste, leading to an unpleasant taste and/or halitosis.

How to Get Rid of a Sour Taste in Your Mouth

It should come as no surprise that the solution to a bitter, sour or acidic taste depends largely on the general cause. Let’s start off looking at an oral hygiene routine that can help neutralise the pH in your mouth and eliminate harmful bacteria. Afterward we can look at the rather more complex topic of GERD.

An Effective Oral Care Routine

Before you start worrying about the potential of GERD it makes sense to ensure that your mouth is being cared for suitably, ensuring the elimination of bacteria from the oral cavity.

Here there are a number of factors which can be positively correlated with better breath and the elimination of odd tastes.

Regular Brushing & Flossing

Brushing and flossing your teeth on a regular basis is the foundation upon which an effective oral care routine is built. If you feel you may be suffering from GERD, as evidenced by factors such as the feeling of heartburn, then it may be worth considering a recalcifying toothpaste to repair any possible dental erosion caused by an acidic mouth.

Use of Antibacterial Mouth Rinses

UltraDEX oral rinse is clinically proven to eliminate the bacteria which can cause bad breath. In doing so it can have a considerably impact on the taste you feel in your mouth. Bearing in mind that most standard mouth washes simply mask the odour with a minty smell, you might be surprised to hear that UltraDEX Daily Oral Rinse is flavour-free. This is because the powerful antibacterial action cuts to the source of the problem rather than just hiding it.

Tongue Scraping

One of the most common sources of bacteria in the mouth is the back of the tongue; the same part which tends to be particularly sensitive to bitter and sour tastes. Indeed, the use of tongue scrapers has been shown to be roughly 50% more effective than brushing alone.

GERD

GERD is a surprisingly common disease, reputedly experienced by between ten and twenty percent of the population(2). When one considers the established links between GERD and bad breath its little wonder that so many people experience a sour taste in their mouth on occasion.

Due to the propensity of GERD, it is a dynamic medical condition, with continual work being carried out on the best solutions. As such, new treatments may well be introduced into the future. For now, however, two of the most effective solutions are behavioural changes and prescription drugs.

Behavioural Changes

The evidence suggests that a number of lifestyle choices are positively correlated with occurrences of GERD. By making changes to our behaviour it is possible to reduce or almost eliminate the effects of GERD on the mouth.

Quit Smoking

Smoking doesn’t just lead to bad breath in itself, but can also affect the oesophageal sphincter muscle. Quitting smoking therefore can have multiple benefits on your breath and the taste in your mouth, not to mention the other more obvious strengths.

Lose Weight

Like snoring, overweight individuals seem more likely to suffer from GERD.

Therefore, shedding excess weight can have a positive impact on any unusual tastes in your mouth.

Additionally, and rather interestingly, a study in 2005(5) also suggests that a very low-carbohydrate diet “significantly reduces distal oesophageal acid exposure”, though of course such a diet can also open you up to ketosis breath.

Sleep at an Incline

If you suffer from GERD then the riskiest time of the day is going to bed. As one lies horizontally, so the odds of gastric juices leaching out increase. By propping yourself up with pillows, so that your body is held at a slight incline, you reduce the effects of GERD.

Consume Smaller Meals

When we consume a large meal the stomach produces additional acid in order to break this down. For obvious reasons a higher volume of stomach acid increases the impact of GERD. Eating smaller meals more regularly helps to regulate the stomachs acid levels and so reduces the odds of any escaping up the oesophagus.

Eat Dinner Earlier

A combination of the two previous factors, enjoying a late dinner can involve both large volumes of food and, shortly after, a horizontal position. Eating dinner earlier in the evening therefore gives suitable time for stomach acid volumes to decrease before you go to bed.

Avoid Acidic Foods

Lastly some foods are known to increase the impact of GERD. These are typically acidic foods in their own right, such as tomatoes and citrus fruits. Try keeping a “food journal”, looking for foods that seem to lead to particularly unpleasant results, then eliminate these from your diet.

Prescription Medications

A number of different medications have been shown to be effective for combatting the effects of GERD. Possibly the most effective solution are group of drugs known as Protein Pump Inhibitors (or PPIs).

These medications work by reducing the amount of acid produced by the stomach. As a result of the smaller fluid volume there is far less chance of the gastric juices making their way into the oesophagus or mouth and causing the associated problems. Generally speaking these should be taken on an empty stomach, and must be prescribed by your GP.


References:

  • (1) Moshkowitz, M et al. 2007. Halitosis and gastroesophageal reflux diseases: a possible association. Oral Diseases 13(6), pp 581-585
  • (2) Stuch, F et al. 2007. Self-reported Halitosis and Gastro-oesophageal Reflux Disease in the General Population. Journal of General Internal Medicine 23(3), pp 260-266. Available at: http://link.springer.com/
  • (3) Barron, RP et al. 2003. Dental erosion in gastroesophageal reflux disease. Canadian Dental Association 69(2), pp 84-89. Available at: http://europepmc.org/
  • (4) Revicki, DA et al. 1998. The impact of Gastroesophageal reflux disease on health-related quality of life. American Journal of Science 104(3), pp 252-258. Available at: http://www.sciencedirect.com/
  • (5) Ausitin, GL et al. 2005. A Very Low-Carbohydrate Diet Improves Gastroesophageal Reflux and Its Symptoms. Digestive Diseases and Sciences. 51, pp 1307-1312. Available at: http://link.springer.com/