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Is your child’s bad breath literally blowing you away? It could be time to revamp their oral hygiene routine. Though sometimes even regular brushing and flossing can’t fight off the unpleasant smell coming out of your little one’s mouth. Learn what causes a child to have bad breath, also known as halitosis. Then, figure out your next steps.

1. Poor Oral Hygiene

First, keep an eye on their toothbrushing habits. Not only does regular brushing and flossing eliminate leftover food debris, which can cause foul odors, but they also remove plaque. This bacteria can build up, irritating the gums, causing tooth decay and making bad breath only one of your concerns. Whether it’s a cavity, gum disease or mouth sores, infections of the mouth can secrete an odorous scent that even the best brushing can’t eliminate. Make sure you’re taking your child to visit the dentist regularly for professional cleanings and oral health checkups.

2. Infections and Diseases

If you and your dentist are satisfied with your child’s oral hygiene routine, another culprit might be to blame for their bad breath. Halitosis is also a symptom for several infections and diseases. These include:

  • Sinus infections. Sinus issues cause fluid to collect in the nasal passages and throat, making it the perfect place for bacteria to gather. The result? Stinky breath that can’t be cured with toothbrushing and mouthwash alone. If you suspect a sinus infection — potential sore throat, burning nasal passages and post nasal drip — call your doctor to set up a visit and put together a treatment plan.
  • Swollen tonsils. Grab a flashlight and take a peek in your child’s mouth: How do those tonsils look? Healthy tonsils should be pink and spot free, but infected ones are red, inflamed, can have white spots and smell terrible. Bacteria can collect in the pits of swollen tonsils and, paired with the sour smell of infection, can cause bad breath. If your child’s tonsils look swollen or red, your pediatrician should examine them and advise on treatment.
  • Diseases such as diabetes, stomach infections, kidney failure, liver problems and cancer of the mouth. These more rare conditions are also known to cause bad breath in children. If your child is undergoing chemotherapy, there is evidence that fungal infections can also develop bad breath. If you know your child has one of these conditions, talk with your doctor and dentist about possible solutions for fighting bad breath.

3. Foreign Objects

Are you still asking, “Why does my child or toddler’s breath smell bad?” The answer might surprise you. Your child’s bad breath could be the result of something stuck in his or her nasal passages. Kids are curious, and their nostrils are just the right size for inserting small items such as beads, beans, toy accessories and food. When these objects get lodged in a child’s nasal passages, it can create an infection with a nasty smell. If you suspect this is what is causing your child’s bad breath, you’ll need a doctor to help check your child’s nasal passages and remove the object.

4. Dry Mouth or Mouth Breathing

Finger-sucking, pacifier use, certain medications and general dehydration can all cause dry mouth in children. Likewise, snoring or mouth breathing at night can make their saliva evaporate. Saliva plays an important role in washing away odor-causing bacteria, and a lack of saliva can also lead to tooth decay and cavities. Make sure your child is getting enough water each day, and talk to your dentist about how to prevent dry mouth.

5. Nutrition or Diet

Occasionally, your child’s smelly breath has nothing to do with microbial activity. Certain foods and vegetables such as garlic, onions and strong spices can create an unpleasant smell. When your child digests and absorbs these foods, odorous molecules enter the bloodstream and are excreted gradually through the lungs and breathing. High-protein foods like red meat, fish, and cheese can even make bad breath worse. If your child’s breath becomes unbearable, consider limiting some of these stinky foods.

How to Treat Bad Breath in Children

Avoiding bad breath begins with a strong oral hygiene routine. Follow these tips from the American Dental Association:

  • Have your child brush their teeth twice a day for two minutes. You will need to supervise or help brush your child’s teeth until you are confident they can brush correctly by themselves. 
  • Use a rice-size smear of toothpaste for children under the age of 3 and a pea-size for those older. Make sure they do not swallow the toothpaste and spit it out.
    When teeth brushing, make sure they also clean their tongue, which can easily trap odor-causing bacteria.
  • As soon as the child has two teeth touching, begin cleaning between the teeth by flossing daily. This will help remove odor-causing food particles and help prevent plaque buildup.
  • Schedule regular checkups and professional cleanings with your child’s dentist as soon as they get their first tooth to identify and treat any oral care problems early.

Chronic Bad Breath in Children

If bad breath lingers even after you implement a better oral hygiene routine and the dentist determines that your child’s mouth is healthy, you may be referred to a primary care physician for additional tests to diagnose the underlying cause of the halitosis. Regardless of the cause, teaching your children how to properly brush and floss their teeth can help them develop lifelong oral care habits.