Everyone experiences bad breath from time to time, even children. But if catching eye-watering whiffs of foul breath from your kids is the norm, it might be a sign that something else is going on with your children’s dental health. There are plenty of causes for bad breath, from oral hygiene to nutrition, but chronic bad breath is actually a clinical condition called halitosis, and it might mean your child needs medical treatment. Let’s examine some of the common causes, treatments, and preventive measures for bad breath in children.

What Causes Bad Breath in Children?

Your child’s bad breath could be caused by several different things, some of which are more easily treatable than others. However, if you regularly smell your child’s breath and it is noticeably putrid or stale, your child might meet the clinical criteria for halitosis, which may require specialty products, treatments, or lifestyle changes to correct. Some of the common causes of bad breath in children include

1. Poor Oral Hygiene

The most common and obvious cause of toddler bad breath—and bad breath in most people—is poor or ineffective oral hygiene. If your child is not brushing and flossing regularly with dentist-approved toothpaste, the accumulated plaque, tartar, and undigested food particles can give off foul odors. Food particles can hide on almost every surface of the mouth, like under the tongue or between the cheeks and gums, so proper cleaning is crucial.

2. Odor Causing Foods

Certain foods like onions and garlic can be well-loved by children, but continue to give off odors as traces of them remain in the mouth after meals. Even protein-rich foods like meat and dairy can give off odor-causing compounds as they break down in your child’s stomach, causing bad breath in children long after they’re done eating.

3. Infection

Oral infections are common in children and are often accompanied by bacteria and potentially even pus-filled discharge—both of which can smell terrible. Two of the most common oral infections for children include:

  • Sinus infections wherein your child’s nasal passage collects bacteria-laced fluid. Symptoms include an itchy or burning throat, stuffiness, nasal drip, and (you guessed it) bad breath.
  • Tonsil infections happen when food and bacteria collect on the pitted surface of your child’s tonsils. Infected tonsils usually look red and swollen with white spots, which can give off a sour smell.

4. Dry Mouth or Dehydration

Saliva is constantly rinsing out our mouths and preventing food particles from remaining in places where they can rot and cause bad breath. If your child is dehydrated or breathes through their mouth, their natural supply of saliva can be limited, leading to bad breath and other oral conditions. Dry mouth can also be caused by things like finger sucking, pacifier usage, or as a side effect of certain medications.

5. Foreign Objects

Children are prone to putting things in their mouth or nasal passages that can get stuck and cause infection or a buildup of mucus that smells foul. Grapes, crayons, beads, or small toys are all the perfect size for a child’s nose or mouth, and if they are being sneaky you might never realize until you smell their breath.

6. Non-Oral Medical Conditions

Occasionally, bad breath and halitosis can be symptoms of non-oral medical conditions like diabetes, stomach infections, or liver and kidney problems. Typically these conditions will present themselves with other, more serious symptoms as well. Bad breath alone does not necessitate a trip to a children’s emergency dentist, but If you suspect your child may be suffering from one of these conditions, make an appointment with your doctor and explain what symptoms you have noticed—including their bad breath.

How to Treat Bad Breath in Children

The first step in any treatment of bad breath in children—or baby bad breath, for that matter—is to adjust their oral care routine. Make sure your child is brushing twice per day with a toothbrush that has been stored upright and allowed to dry between uses. This prevents bacteria from growing on the bristles.

For babies and toddlers, use a rice-sized amount of toothpaste and brush their teeth gently. Make sure they spit out the toothpaste and do not swallow it. For older children, use a pea-sized amount of toothpaste and ensure that they brush for at least two minutes. Brushing can feel like a chore for some children, so you may have to supervise them to ensure they are building good oral healthcare habits.

Children must floss to remove the food particles trapped between their teeth. If your child does not like traditional floss, you can try alternative products like floss-picks or Waterpiks to make it easier for your child.

If your child is brushing and flossing regularly and still experiences bad breath, consider making dietary changes like limiting their intake of smelly foods. Be careful not to limit their supply of necessary nutrients, however, as these are far more important to overall children’s dental health. Pay attention to the foods your child eats before you notice their bad breath and try to pinpoint the ones that are connected. Also, be sure that your child is drinking plenty of water and not just juice or soda, as the sugars in these beverages can lead to decay and unpleasant odors.

Visiting Pediatric Dentist About Bad Breath in Children

Finally, take children’s preventive dental care seriously by keeping appointments with your pediatric dentist and bringing your child in for regular cleanings and checkups. Tooth decay and gum disease can cause foul odors, and will only worsen without medical intervention. Make sure that all cavities and potential sources of infection are treated as soon as possible before they have time to worsen.

If your child is struggling with bad breath, the professionals at Northern Nevada Children’s Dental and Orthodontics can help. With years of experience and specialized training to help children feel comfortable and reassured in our care, our professional team can give you and your child the treatment and knowledge to treat chronic bad breath. Call today or visit our clinic to schedule your first appointment!