Bad breath, or halitosis, is common in adults, but less frequently seen in children. When children have bad breath, it’s usually not due to a serious medical problem, although in rare cases it can be. What is the cause of bad breath in children?
The Cause of Bad Breath in Children: It Could Be Oral Hygiene Problems
Tooth decay or lack of adequate tooth brushing allows bacteria to stagnate in the mouth – which leads to halitosis. This is one of the more common causes of halitosis in children. Eighty-five percent of bad breath in children comes from problems in the oral cavity.
The first priority is to make sure your child is brushing regularly, including his tongue – twice a day. Take a close look at your child’s tongue. Does it have a thick coating? The dead cells on a child’s tongue can harbor many thousands of bacteria that cause bad breath. Be sure your child brushes the back of his tongue since this is the most common area where bacteria can hide.
If this doesn’t solve the problem, make a dental appointment for your child to check for tooth decay and to remove any plaque along the gum line that could be contributing to halitosis.
Another Cause of Bad Breath in Children: Post-Nasal Drainage
This is one of the most common causes of bad breath in children. Secretions draining into the throat from infected sinuses or allergies are an ideal breeding ground for bacteria. If your child has nasal stuffiness, discolored nasal mucous, nighttime cough, fever, facial swelling, or allergy symptoms, consult his pediatrician. Rarely, a child will push a foreign body into his nose, which leads to halitosis.
Children with Bad Breath May Have a Dry Mouth
Another cause of bad breath in children is a dry mouth from low saliva production. This isn’t as common in children, as in adults, but children who are anxious and nervous may not produce enough saliva.
Childhood bad breath can also be due to mouth breathing, medications, and not drinking enough fluids. Children who have asthma and breathe through their mouth more are predisposed to halitosis because their mouth dries out. Some autoimmune diseases can do it too, but these are more frequently seen in adults.
More Serious Causes of Bad Breath in Children
Occasionally, bad breath in a child can be a sign of a more serious problem. A child who has a fruity odor to his breath may have diabetes. Bad breath in children can also be a sign of kidney failure or liver disease. Sometimes children with bad breath have GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease), which can be associated with infection with a bacteria called H. pylori. These are all conditions that your child’s pediatrician can diagnose through an exam and appropriate blood work.
Causes of Bad Breath in Children: The Bottom Line?
Bad breath is usually not a sign of serious disease in children, although it can be. If your child’s halitosis doesn’t improve with good dental hygiene, it’s time to consult a pediatrician and dentist.
Merck Manual. Eighteenth Edition. 2006.
Pediatric Dental Health. “Halitosis and Bad Breath in Children”