NANC Y W. BURKHAR T, BSDH, EdD, is an adjunct
associate professor in the department of
periodontics, Baylor College of Dentistry and
the Texas A & M Health Science Center, Dal-
las. Dr. Burkhart is founder and cohost of the
International Oral Lichen Planus Support Group
and coauthor of General and Oral Pathology
for the Dental Hygienist. She was a 2006 Crest/
ADHA award winner. She is a 2012 Mentor of Distinction through
Philips Oral Healthcare and Penn Well Corp. Her website for semi-
nars on mucosal diseases, oral cancer, and oral pathology topics
B Y NANCY W. BURKHART, BSDH, EDD
Your patient is Andrea, a 37-year-old female who just arrived
for her recare visit with you. You have prepared the supplies
that you will need, modifying what you normally use since
Andrea complains about the tastes and scents in the office.
Over the past few years, you have identified a prophy paste
that Andrea seems to be able to tolerate without too many
complaints because the paste is a low-flavored variety.
Andrea does not react well to any products that are
highly flavored or highly scented. You always remember to
make sure that you have not used any body products with a
perfumed scent on the day of her visit. Sometimes, she even
reacts to detergents that you may have used to wash your
scrubs. Do you think that Andrea could be a supertaster?
WHAT IS A SUPERTASTER?
The term supertaster appeared in “Food Technology” papers
in 1991, written by Dr. Linda Bartoshuk who has conducted
studies on supertasters. Supertasters comprise about 15% to
25% of the population; nontasters comprise the other end of
the continuum, accounting for another 25% of the population. The rest of the population falls in the middle range.
Supertasters describe themselves as having a strong
aversion to certain foods and liquids. They usually remember disliking certain vegetables for as long as they can remember, dating back to early childhood. The strongest aversion tends to be with foods that have a bitter taste such as
broccoli, kale, brussels sprouts, and other dark green vegetables. Supertasters will often use larger quantities of salt
in order to mask the tastes of certain foods. However, most
supertasters tend to just stay away from the foods that taste
The reaction to both taste and smell may explain why
some children may actually gag when they encounter
strongly flavored products that are typically used in the
dental office, such as certain flavors of prophy paste and
fluoride products. Since we know that taste and smell are
intertwined, this certainly makes sense. Some patients can
detect the scent of an anesthetic, the scent of tooth material
that has been drilled, scents of pumice, and flavored pastes
along with the scent of many items that are routinely used
in a dental office.
HOW DOES ONE BECOME A SUPERTASTER?
A supertaster does not choose to cultivate certain tastes.
They are genetically programmed to react to various chemi-
cals in the environment. Supertasters tend to have other
family members who are also supertasters, such as siblings,
parents, and grandparents. Supertasters dislike bitter, very
sweet, and very fatty products.
Researchers know that the reaction to “bitter taste” may
have been an innate defense mechanism that protects us
from plants that may be poisonous in the environment. It
is known that some animals such as dogs have an innate
sense to leave plants alone that may be dangerous to them.
Many genes have been linked to various taste sensations,
and taste receptors have been found throughout the body,
including the gut and the nose. The taste gene associated
with the bitter taste is TAS2R38.
Supertasters tend to gravitate toward occupations involving food such as chefs, tasters who make a living with
their keen sense of taste, and those in catering services, etc.
They are also known to either “love” certain foods or “hate”
them intensely. The taste sensation that supertasters have
allows them to actually discern the products comprising a
certain dish that others may love (but have no idea why the
dish is consumed so much).
Supertasters react to a chemical called PROP or PTC.
These chemicals produce a similar reaction when supertasters eat green vegetables such as kale, green peppers, and
broccoli. Other items that tend to be unpleasant to supertasters are dark chocolate, grapefruit, radishes, and coffee.
Supertasters also tend to dislike high fatty types of foods
such as a fatty beef. To a supertaster, they are more than
intense in texture and unbearably bitter.
Supertasters are genetically programmed to react to
PROP or PTC with extreme intensity. Web companies do
sell taste strips that are infused with PROP and will detect
A PATIENT IS