Children and adults alike experience bad breath every once in a while, but if your child seems to have bad breath on a regular basis, there may be an underlying cause that needs to be addressed. Below are a few causes for bad breath in kids and what parents can do about it.

Poor brushing and flossing habits

One of the most commons causes of bad breath in children is simply the lack of good oral hygiene. Young children especially, are not always consistent in their brushing and flossing habits, either because these activities have not yet become an ingrained habit, or they lack the dexterity to brush and floss correctly. Poor flossing in particular can cause bad breath, as bacteria that remains between teeth cause a bad odor. Parents should work with their children on how to floss their teeth to insure they’re doing a good job in removing all food and bacteria that can cause bad breath.  The flossers on a stick are a great tool to try!

Dry mouth

When your child’s mouth is producing less saliva than normal, dry mouth may occur, which can contribute to bad breath. Dry mouth can be caused by mouth breathing, some medications, or dehydration. Make sure your child is well-hydrated.  If you suspect the cause is due to mouth breathing, consult with a pediatric dentist to insure there’s no obstructions or other issues causing mouth breathing. If the condition continues, you should consult your pediatrician to insure there are no other issues causing this condition. They may recommend saliva substitutes or saliva stimulants if the condition is severe.

Sinus infection or obstruction

Sinus infections cause fluid to collect in the nasal passages and throat, making your child’s throat the perfect place for bacteria to gather. This can cause bad breath that can’t be addressed with brushing and mouthwash alone. If you suspect your child has a sinus infection call your doctor for a visit and see if antibiotics need to be prescribed. Your child’s bad breath could also be the result of something stuck in their nasal passages. When an object gets lodged in a child’s nasal passages it can create a nasty smell. Removing the offending object will likely address the bad breath.  (I had a patient with a felt pom pom stuck in his nostril for days, the kind you glue onto paper to decorate it.  His parent was so relieved once it was removed because it was that causing the horrible odor.)

Tooth decay

Tooth decay starts when bacteria in the mouth begins to attack the teeth. The same bacteria that can cause tooth decay can cause the accompanying bad breath. If you suspect your child is experiencing some form of tooth decay, make an appointment with their pediatric dentist for an examination and to discuss treatment options.

Strong smelling foods

Kid’s mouths react the same to strong-smelling foods as adults do.  If your child is a lover of garlic, onions, and other strong-odor foods, this can cause temporary bad breath. Teaching kids to brush after every meal is the best way to address this issue. However, the gases from digestion come up from the stomach and sometimes, no matter how much your child brushes and flosses, it is more difficult to get rid of.  The bad breath is likely temporary though!

The tongue

Other than decay itself, and poor brushing habits, anatomically, the number 1 cause of bad breath is our tongue.  It is important to brush or “scrape” or tongue when we brush our teeth.  I am a fan of the tongue scraper because the kind on the back of the toothbrush doesn’t get all the gook trapped in the papilla.  The papilla are the little “hair-like projections” on the surface of the tongue that traps all sorts of food and bacteria.

The tonsils

Our tonsils are the number 2 anatomical most common cause of bad breath.  Our tonsils are made of crypts and folds where food gets stuck and rots.  It is important to gargle when your child brushes as well.

Medical issues

There are certain medical issues that can cause bad breath in children.  Though likely your child’s bad breath is caused by one of the above factors, if your child’s bad breath is persistent, you may want to ask a medical professional to check for other causes. Allergies and tonsillitis are two possibilities to consider.

Typically, your child’s bad breath will go away once the child brushes, flosses, scrapes their tongue and gargles. For persistent cases, consult your pediatric dentist to insure that your child’s mouth is healthy; , and then a pediatrician if the dentist doesn’t find a cause for the ongoing issue.