It can catch you by surprise: A sweet taste in your mouth. Maybe it happens when you’re drinking water or maybe eating something that you expected to be more savory. Whatever the case, it can be confusing and even a bit alarming.
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So what, exactly, is going on? Internal medicine expert Philip Junglas, MD, explains all the many causes of what could be happening and what you can do to treat it.
Why does water taste sweet?
Most people notice an unexpected sweet taste when they’re drinking water. According to Dr. Junglas, there are a few water-specific reasons for this.
Good oral hygiene will always provide you with the purest taste, Dr. Junglas notes. But there are still some scenarios where what’s going on in your mouth will affect what you taste.
“Sometimes a person may wake up in the middle of the night and take a sip of water when their mouth has dried out while they slept,” he says. “They may notice the water tastes sweeter simply because the drying secretions of the evening will have probably a more acidic nature. And when you balance that with just plain water, it heightens the sense of sweetness, even though the water is just water.”
The water itself
On other occasions, the sweet taste of water may have nothing to do with you and everything to do with the water itself, particularly if you live in rural areas.
“Out where I live, I have well water which tastes sweeter. That usually has to do with higher levels of calcium and iron,” Dr. Junglas says. Too much iron in water can certainly result in a metallic taste but, he notes, at certain levels and combined with calcium, the water would taste sweet.
Another factor could be things your water picks up as it passes through various pipes to reach your glass. Generally, letting the water run for a few moments before collecting it in your glass will flush those collected materials through the pipes leaving you with the more natural-tasting water.
Are their biological causes for a sweet taste?
Whether it’s water that tastes sweet or just a generally sweet taste in your mouth, there could be biological reasons.
Your sense of smell
If something’s impacting your olfactory system, Dr. Junglas says, that could certainly impact your sense of taste. And while you might think of how what you drink has an impact on that, you have to consider what you’re drinking out of, too.
Says Dr. Junglas, “If you’re drinking out of a cup, the smell of the cup influences what you taste. If the cup is just out of the dishwasher, the soap may cause the liquid to taste different compared to a cup that you’re drinking out of that’s been on the shelf for a few days.”
Related to that, inflammation in your sinuses — whether viral or bacterial — could also impact your sense of smell and taste, he adds.
Reflux issues can also be a culprit for sweet tastes, according to Dr. Junglas.
“You’ll notice this more at night and, like those issues with your nighttime secretions, trace acidic stomach secretions which can end up in your mouth as a result of the reflux and oral enzymes in your saliva can cause that sweet taste.”
This can be especially true with people who suffer from chronic acid reflux – also known as gastroesophageal reflux (or GERD, for short) – who have a constant presence of those acids in their mouth.
A persistent sweet taste in the mouth could also be a sign of your body’s inability to regulate its blood sugar level, a potential sign of diabetes.
There’s a hormone called glucagon that’s produced by your pancreas that works with the hormone insulin to regulate your body’s blood sugar levels. While insulin prevents high blood sugar levels, glucagon’s job is to keep your blood sugar level from dropping too low.
Those hormones can get out of whack with diabetes and that could cause higher blood sugar levels that can result in a sweet taste in the mouth.
Another diabetes-related issue is diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA). When high blood sugar levels go untreated, it can develop into hyperglycemia and lead to the development of DKA. One of the symptoms of DKA is a sort of sweet, fruity-smell on the breath which can also cause a sweet taste in the mouth.
Treatments for the sweet taste
If water tastes sweet and you’re able to figure out that it’s the water itself, there are a variety of filters that can be used to treat the water. Otherwise, it can get tricky.
“It’s a challenge because it all depends on the particular cause,” Dr. Junglas says.
Good oral hygiene can be a key, he points out. “Sometimes, simply brushing the tongue will help you get rid of the bacteria that tend to live in the crevices temporarily. Or you could try an alcohol-based mouthwash which will minimize the bacteria in the mouth.”
Additionally, with acid reflux a potential cause, he also suggests making sure there are at least four hours between when you eat your final meal of the day and go to bed.
Beyond that, he adds, consulting your healthcare provider and even an ear, nose and throat doctor can put you on the path towards finding a solution. “Just to have somebody take a look at your olfactory system and check the health of the tongue can be very beneficial,” he says.
Finally, talking with your provider is especially important in terms of figuring out whether or not the symptoms could be related to diabetes. Identifying diabetes and receiving the proper treatment – as well as adjusting your lifestyle to help alleviate the more serious symptoms.