Airline Food, Dysgeusia, and Other Matters of Taste

General dentistry in Park Ridge, ILIt’s no secret that the in-flight meal is among the least glamorous aspects of air travel. What most travelers don’t realize, however, is that the food itself may not actually be to blame. The real culprit? Your sense of taste. Park Ridge, IL dentist, Dr. Thanasi Loukas, shares fascinating facts about your sense of taste, oral health, and the secret behind oft-maligned airline cuisine.

Common Causes of Dysgeusia

A number of habits and health conditions have been known to cause dysgeusia, or taste disorders. Most produce this symptom only temporarily, although there are exceptions. Smoking tobacco, especially using a pipe, is among the most common causes of taste changes. Many ex-smokers report that several months or even years pass before they fully regain their full sense of taste. Certain medications, including those used to treat infections, cancer, heart disease, and psychiatric conditions, list short-term dysgeusia as a potential side effect. Taste may also be altered in patients with severe dry mouth, which usually occurs either as a symptom or a side effect. Migraines, diabetes, thyroid disease, and even depression can affect your ability to taste. Less common causes include damaged taste nerves, Bell’s palsy, and laryngeal surgery.

When Should You Be Concerned?

If you develop a change in taste not explained by the factors listed above, Dr. Loukas recommends scheduling an appointment. Dysgeusia is a symptom of several oral health conditions, many of which require professional intervention such as antibiotic treatment, tooth extraction, or restorative dentistry. These include:

  • Periodontal disease: A severe infection affecting the gums and connective tissue holding your teeth in place. Without treatment, gum disease ultimately leads to permanent loss of teeth and bone. Other symptoms may include bleeding gums, gum tissue that appears red, shiny, and inflamed, and persistent bad breath.
  • Dental abscess:  A pocket or collection of pus that occurs as the result of a bacterial infection within the tooth. An abscess may be accompanied by swelling and pain.
  • Oral thrush: A yeast infection affecting the inside of the mouth and the tongue surface. Telltale symptoms include white, raised lesions within the mouth, itching, and slight bleeding in affected areas.

Now, About That Airline Food

The human tongue boasts between 3,000-10,000 individual taste buds, arranged in a pattern as uniquely identifiable to you as your fingerprints. Your ability to taste depends on these tiny nodes, but it also requires contributions from your sense of smell. When you travel by air, several factors combine to alter your sense of taste and smell. First, the humidity within the cabin is considerably lower. At high altitudes, your taste buds can no longer perceive saltiness or sweetness as keenly as before—about 30 percent less than usual. Mucus membranes in your nose swell, and pressure in the cabin renders odor molecules less volatile. Another theory holds that background noise—in this case, the sound of the aircraft engines—diminishes ability to perceive sweetness and saltiness. That said, the same “bland” dish eaten at 35,000 feet in the air would most likely taste over-seasoned if eaten at sea level!

A healthy smile is always in good taste. To learn more about preventive, cosmetic, or restorative dentistry options, or to schedule an appointment with Drs. Maria and Thanasi Loukas, contact our Park Ridge, IL dentist office at 847.696.1919. We welcome patients living in Park Ridge, Chicago, and the surrounding areas.

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