Dairy products suddenly taste bad

Originally Published: February 24, 2006
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Dear Alice,

I have a weird problem that happened to me once when I was maybe 8 years old (I'm 20 now). I woke up one morning and all dairy products tasted horrible. They tasted as though they had gone bad. I'm not sure how long it lasted back then because I just stopped eating all dairy products for a couple of years - I was afraid they would taste bad, but it definitely lasted several months. When I started to have them again they tasted fine. It seems to have started again. What could possibly be the cause of this?

Dear Reader,

With all the makeover shows on TV these days, it seems like everyone has bad taste! Lucky for you, your taste issues seem localized to your mouth.  Dysgeusia, the technical name for changes in taste, is when the nerve cells responsible for taste send messages to our brains that are different than what we're used to.  Taste (in addition to being about your fashion sense) is about the flavors on your tongue and the odors associated with food.  Your sense of smell plays a big part in how things taste to you.  Even a small change in your ability to smell can make your favorite food taste gross. Taste changes are usually a symptom of another underlying cause, and dysgeusia can often be traced to a number of potential sources, such as:

  • a wide range of medications such as antibiotics, lithium, and chemotherapy drugs
  • an illness or injury that affects the head, nose, or throat
  • dry mouth, which is common in the morning, especially if you have a cold
  • smoking
  • periodontal disease, tartar build-up, and/or gingivitis
  • damage to the taste nerves, like burning your mouth with hot food or liquid
  • vitamin or mineral deficiencies
Changes in taste are usually temporary and will disappear once the cause of the problem is eliminated.  You may want to try investigating the source of the problem on your own by thinking about what could be the culprit of your dysgeusia.  It might be as simple as waiting for a stuffy nose to clear up or brushing more frequently.  You may also want to try rinsing your mouth out with water before eating dairy products or try eating them at different times of the day to see if when you eat them affects the taste.

If you can't pinpoint the cause on your own, a medical provider or dentist can help you figure out exactly what's going on.  They will likely ask you questions such as if your taste changes only happen with dairy foods, if you have experienced any illnesses recently, and if you've changed any of your personal habits like your diet or your teeth brushing routine.  Once you find the cause, you can be back on the way to consuming dulce de leche and other delectable dairy products.

Alice