Causes and Cures of Bad Breath in Kids
Bad breath, also called halitosis, in children is commonly caused by poor oral hygiene, dehydration, eating stinky foods, or certain medical conditions. Foul-smelling breath can be concerning for some parents, or an embarrassing, nerve-racking conversation among young teenagers. Therefore, being aware of the common causes can help alleviate many of the stresses associated with halitosis.
What Causes Bad Breath in Kids?
Halitosis or bad breath in your child can be caused by a number of factors including:
- Poor oral hygiene
- Eating smelly foods
- Medical conditions such as acid reflux or enlarged tonsils
- Medications your child is taking
Poor Oral Hygiene Can Cause Bad Breath in Toddlers
Poor oral hygiene is one of the leading causes of bad breath in toddlers. The most common places in the mouth for smelly, halitosis-causing debris to hang out are: in between the teeth, around the gums, and on the tongue. This debris, called plaque, can cause stinky odors from the bacteria that is collected due to the failure to remove old food particles with good brushing and flossing.
Can Brushing and Flossing Cure Bad Breath in Children?
Curing bad breath in toddlers that is caused by a lack of proper oral home care is relatively simple and straight forward— improve oral hygiene! Thorough brushing for 2 minutes, correct flossing, and tongue brushing or scaping is key. Most people forget to brush the top surface of your tongue, which is where a lot of the odor causing buildup can reside. In fact, there are special “brushes” for your tongue that are called “tongue scrapers,” which can be found in most oral hygiene sections of drug stores.
It is important to make sure the proper techniques are being used to adequately remove all the plaque that causes bad breath. One key technique is ensuring that the toothbrush bristles are going towards the gums at a 45-degree angle. The gumline is a common spot that is missed when brushing, which can cause heavy buildup of odor from the plaque.
Unfortunately, brushing alone doesn’t clean in between the teeth, so flossing is necessary to remove the bacteria in these areas. From traditional floss, to handle flossers, to air flossers, to Waterpiks, there are many different flossing options. The traditional floss and handle flossers are still the best options, while other flossing techniques and devices can be great adjuncts. The most important part of flossing is to make sure that the floss is following the contour of the tooth and going underneath the gums.
It is also important to note that a person should properly store their toothbrush in an upright position (not touching anything) allowing the bristles to dry, which minimizes the bacteria that is on the toothbrush. And make sure to replace your toothbrush every 3 months or when it looks worn down (frayed bristles are a common sign)! These are all good tricks to help keep your mouth clean and decrease the number of bacteria in the mouth which are main causes of halitosis.
Dehydration Can Cause Bad Breath in Kids
Drinking plenty of water is very important for our bodies. And the mouth is no different! Dehydration is one of the leading causes of bad breath. When we don’t drink enough water, the amount of saliva in our mouth decreases. This decrease in spit leads to a decrease in the natural ability of our saliva to clean our oral environment. As a result, we get an increase in the odor causing bacteria in our mouths… yuck! Luckily, this is relatively simple to cure; make sure that everyone gets plenty of water to drink and the risk of halitosis is decreased quickly.
Smelly Foods Can Contribute to Halitosis in Children
It’s not surprising that some of our favorite foods have a very stinky odor. In fact, that can be part of the reason we love to eat them! Garlic and onions are two of the most common culprits. After eating these foods, it is best to rinse with water or even brush our teeth. Another great option after eating smelly foods is to chew a small, sugarless piece of gum, such as Trident. Gum obviously has a very sticky nature to it and it can bind some of the small food particles stuck on the teeth. Most gum flavors also have a pleasant smell that can cover up the sticky foods we eat. And chewing gum can help create more saliva in our mouths, which can help to limit halitosis.
Can Mouthwash Cure Halitosis in Kids?
If you already have top-notch oral hygiene practices down pat, drink plenty of water, and have eliminated eating stinky foods, the next option may be to try mouth rinse. For pediatric patients, we recommend finding a rinse that contains fluoride. While some rinses are yummy bubble gum flavored, a mild mint mouth rinse will help combat some of the odors associated with halitosis.
Some adult rinses may be too spicy or strong for pediatric patients. Try a kid-friendly rinse, like ACT for Kids, or an alcohol-free rinse, such as Listerine Zero Total Care. Kids younger than 6 years of age should not use rinses, due to the likelihood of swallowing the rinse. All mouth rinses are meant to be spit out after use.
Medical Concerns Related to Bad Breath and Halitosis in Kids
There are a few other causes of bad breath are can be related to your child’s overall physical health. Children who experience acid reflux may also have bad breath. This is due to the regurgitation of stomach acids and partially digested foods. If this is a concern for your child, please consult with your child’s pediatrician to see if you need to change your child’s diet or if they need special medication.
Another contribution to bad breath may be large tonsils or adenoids. Enlarged tonsils and adenoids which sit at the back of the throat can harbor lots of bacteria, which may lead of halitosis. Large tonsils can also be the cause of snoring and sleep apnea. In severe instances, your child may need to be evaluated by an Ear, Nose, and Throat specialist, or ENT.
Lastly, certain medications can also lead to a decreased in saliva flow, which can lead to bad breath. If your child is taking medications on a daily basis due to a specific medical condition, it is important to know that saliva flow may be less. It is often best to increase water consumption to offset the decreased flow of saliva.
Contact Sprout Pediatric Dentistry & Orthodontics
At Sprout Pediatric Dentistry & Orthodontics, we can discuss halitosis at your child’s dental check-up. If it is a concern, we can help recommend techniques and cures that may be individualized for your child’s specific needs! Schedule an appointment today.
Dr. Dana grew up in Portland, and went to Temple University in Philadelphia, PA for dental school. She then moved to Anchorage, AK for her residency in Pediatric Dentistry. Dr. Dana takes a holistic approach to pediatric dentistry & is able to use her own parenting experience to sympathize and understand each family’s unique dynamic.