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What Causes Bad Breath in Kids and How to Get Rid of It?

By April 14, 2021February 22nd, 2023Blog

What Causes Bad Breath in Kids? and How To Treat It?

You go to give your child a hug and, as you get closer, you catch a whiff of their breath and let’s just say, it’s not very pleasant. Kids may be adorable but they can experience bad breath, technically called halitosis, just like adults. In fact, it’s a pretty common concern parents bring up with a Naperville pediatric dentist when they visit our practice. 

In this post, we’ll go over:

Why Does My Kid’s Breath Smell So Bad?

So, what causes bad breath in kids? There are a number of things that can be behind a child’s halitosis and the culprits vary depending on whether the bad breath is acute or chronic. While many causes are not a concern and are easily remedied, others are more serious and will require a trip to the pediatric dentist or pediatrician. 

Here are some of the main reasons for bad breath in babies toddlers, children and teens:

  • Stinky Foods

Foods with strong odors are a leading cause for kids’ halitosis. Digestion starts with the first bite, and garlic, cheese, onions and other pungent foods begin breaking down in the mouth. This can lead to a bad smell. Making matters worse is the fact that both garlic and onions contain sulfur compounds that hang out in the mouth for hours and are absorbed into the bloodstream and released when your kiddo exhales. Thankfully, this type of halitosis is temporary and doesn’t indicate anything is wrong with your child’s oral health. Unfortunately, brushing won’t completely get rid of bad breath in a child caused by sulfur-producing foods, and you’ll have to wait it out. 

  • Morning Breath

Morning breath isn’t just a common cause of bad breath in teens and adults, it can even cause bad breath in babies and toddlers. This is because everyone has odor-causing bacteria in their mouth, regardless of their age or how many teeth they have. At night, during sleep, saliva production slows down, so this bacteria isn’t washed away. When kids wake up, their breath can smell. Morning breath will go away when your child brushes their teeth and as their saliva flow ramps back up. 

  • Poor Oral Hygiene

If kids aren’t brushing and flossing their teeth often enough, or effectively enough, food particles and plaque will congregate and the smelly bacteria will release a stench. Don’t overlook the tongue when brushing either. Odor-causing bacteria attach to the skin cells on the back of the tongue.

  • Dental Concerns like Cavities, Infections or Loose Restorations

If your child has tooth decay (a cavity), it means the tooth is decaying, which doesn’t smell great. Food is also more likely to get trapped in the damaged area of the tooth, exacerbating bad breath in kids. Abscessed teeth can also lead to strong bad breath in children because it’s an infection, as can mouth sores. If your kiddo has a dental crown or filling that’s loose or broken, this too can result in halitosis since bacteria will accumulate under the restoration. 

  • Dry Mouth

Xerostomia, a fancy term for dry mouth, causes bad breath in kids in the same way morning breath does. Not enough saliva is being produced, so bacteria and food particles aren’t being washed away and the mouth starts to smell. However, while morning breath goes away quickly, dry mouth can be persistent when it’s due to a medical condition or medication. If dry mouth is from dehydration, on the other hand, having your child drink more water is an easy bad breath remedy. 

  • Gum Disease

Kids can have gum disease too. If soft plaque and tartar (hardened plaque) build up around and under the gum line and in between the teeth, the bacteria and toxins in the plaque can cause the gums to become inflamed and infected (gingivitis). Infection never smells good, which is why a symptom of gum disease in kids is recurrent bad breath. 

  • Mouth Breathing

Mouth breathing causes bad breath in toddlers and kids, because it creates dry mouth, which, as we’ve identified, is associated with stinky breath. If your child is breathing through their mouth because of a stuffy nose, halitosis should be short-term and go away once their congestion has cleared up. Mouth breathing in children can also be a habit that not only leads to bad breath, but creates orthodontic issues that will need to be fixed as well. It may be reversed if caught early, so if you suspect your child’s bad breath is from chronic mouth breathing, have it evaluated. 

  • Sinus Infection

Sinus infections can cause bad breath in babies, toddlers and people of all ages. The mucus often drips down the back of the throat and sits on the tongue. When the bacteria feeds on the gunk, it releases bad-smelling gases. 

  • Large Tonsils

If your child has tonsils with deep pits or their tonsils are very prominent, oral and nasal secretions, food debris and bacteria can get trapped. Additionally, tonsil stones (tonsilloliths) may develop in the pits and, as they decompose, give off a foul smell. 

  • Health Conditions

There are a number of health conditions that can cause bad breath in children, including diabetes, thrush, infections (like the sinus infection we mentioned), gastroesophageal reflux and, rarely, problems with the liver or kidneys. Bad breath in babies and kids doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with your child, but if the dentist rules out the other causes of halitosis, it wouldn’t hurt to visit your pediatrician. 

  • An Object in the Nose

Yup, kids do some ill-advised things like sticking objects and food in their nose. This is especially common in the toddler years. So, if you’re worried about your toddler’s bad breath and their oral hygiene is excellent, check their nose. When something gets stuck in the nose, it causes nasal secretions, inflammation and a bad smell that can be mistaken for bad breath. If you do suspect your child stuck something up their nose, there’s a bad stench coming from their nostril, you see dark green mucus or they have a fever, seek medical attention. 


father and son brushing teeth together


How to Get Rid of Bad Breath in a Child

The success of bad breath remedies will depend on the underlying cause of kids’ halitosis. However, these tips will eliminate bad breath in the vast majority of cases:

  • Make sure kids are brushing their teeth twice a day for two minutes each session and flossing once daily. To eliminate bad breath in babies or toddlers, you’ll have to do the brushing and flossing for them. Older kids can brush on their own, but you might want to supervise to ensure they’re using good technique if their bad breath doesn’t seem to clear up in spite of their oral hygiene routine. Have kids brush their tongue too to remove any coating. 
  • Don’t let kids skip breakfast in the morning. Eating and drinking will kick-start their saliva production and help with morning breath.
  • Ward off dry mouth by having kids drink enough water every day. Ask them to rinse their mouth with water after meals and snacks too. 
  • Giving kids sugarless gum, particularly if it contains xylitol, is an excellent way to get rid of bad breath. While this may not be one of the best remedies for bad breath in toddlers since they’ll likely swallow it or cause a mess, it can be helpful for school-aged kids. Chewing gum gets saliva flowing, which washes away odor-causing bacteria. Xylitol is thought to reduce the risk of cavities by decreasing smelly plaque and bacteria. 
  • The bacteria in the mouth feed on sugars and starches. That’s why it’s key to encourage kids to eat a healthy, well-rounded diet and try to limit sugary treats and have starchy foods in moderation. Raw, fibrous fruits and vegetables like carrots and apples have the added benefit of scraping away odorous plaque as kids eat them. 
  • If bad breath in kids is caused by cavities, gum disease or another oral health concern, seek treatment from a pediatric dentist. They can get rid of the decay or infection and give you homecare tips for keeping your child’s teeth and gums healthy. 
  • Speaking of pediatric dentists, regular check-ups and cleanings are super important. During professional cleanings, we use special tools to eliminate hardened plaque, which will improve your child’s breath. Your pediatric dentist will also evaluate your child’s teeth and gums and talk with you about their health history, allowing them to treat problems early on before they become more serious and create halitosis. 
  • Try to break your child’s mouth breathing habit. Pediatric dentists are trained in helping children nix harmful oral habits, so bring it up at your next appointment. 
  • For bad breath in kids that’s from a health condition, chatting with your pediatrician about how to best manage the condition can also help with your child’s breath. If bad breath is from a medication and if it’s bothersome or your child is embarrassed by it, you may want to discuss alternatives with their doctor. 

When Should You See a Pediatric Dentist for Bad Breath in Children?

If your child’s bad breath is accompanied by tooth pain, make an appointment with your pediatric dentist right away as it could be a sign of a cavity. If they have a fever too, they may be suffering from an infection, so seek medical or dental care as soon as possible. 

For mild cases of bad breath in kids that come and go, it’s not an emergency. Try our tips for how to get rid of bad breath in a child and keep a close eye on the situation to see if it improves. If your little one’s halitosis is persistent and none of our bad breath remedies work, bring it up with your child’s dentist. 

When a patient visits Innovative Pediatric Dentistry with halitosis, a Naperville dentist for kids will take their medical history, including asking about health conditions or medications they’re taking. They may sniff your child’s breath too. That might sound strange but it’s a reliable way to determine the underlying cause of halitosis since certain issues like tooth decay and diabetes have very distinct odors. Of course, they’ll also perform a thorough exam to check for issues, such as plaque build up, loose fillings or crowns, and cavities.

If you’re concerned about your what causes bad breath in kids, schedule a visit at Innovative Pediatric Dentistry today. We’re experts in the oral health needs of kids and we’ll determine the reason for your child’s bad breath and create a plan to treat it. 

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