Child has bad breath

Bad Breath

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You lean over to whisper something to your friend and you can tell by the look on your friend’s face that something is up. Could it be your breath? Maybe you shouldn’t have put extra onions on your hamburger at lunch. What’s a kid with smelly breath to do?

The good news is that bad breath happens to everyone once in a while. Let’s find out how to detect it, prevent it, and even treat it.

What’s That Smell?

Bad breath is the common name for the medical condition known as halitosis (say: hal-uh-TOE-sis). Many different things can cause halitosis — from not brushing your teeth to certain medical conditions.

Sometimes, a person’s bad breath can blow you away — and he or she may not realize there’s a problem. There are tactful (nice) ways of letting someone know about bad breath. You could offer mints or sugarless gum without having to say anything.

If you need to tell a friend he or she has bad breath, you could say that you understand foods can cause bad breath because you’ve had it before yourself. By letting someone know that bad breath isn’t something unusual, you’ll make your friend feel more comfortable and less embarrassed about accepting your piece of chewing gum.

If you suspect your own breath is foul, ask someone who will give you an honest answer without making fun of you. (Just don’t ask your brother or sister — they just might tell you your breath stinks even when it doesn’t!)

Although everyone gets bad breath sometimes, if you have bad breath a lot, you may need to visit your dentist or doctor.

What Causes Bad Breath?

Here are three common causes of bad breath:

  1. foods and drinks, such as garlic, onions, cheese, orange juice, and soda
  2. poor dental hygiene (say: HI-jeen), meaning not brushing and flossing regularly
  3. smoking and other tobacco use

Poor oral hygiene leads to bad breath because when food particles are left in your mouth, they can rot and start to smell. The food bits may begin to collect bacteria, which can be smelly, too.

Not brushing your teeth regularly will let plaque (a sticky, colorless film) build up on your teeth. Plaque is a great place for bacteria to live and yet another reason why breath can turn foul.

Preventing Smelly Breath

So what’s a kid to do? Don’t smoke or use tobacco products, of course. And take care of your mouth by brushing your teeth at least twice a day and flossing once a day. Brush your tongue, too, because bacteria can grow there. Flossing once a day helps get rid of particles wedged between your teeth. Also, visit your dentist twice a year for regular checkups and cleanings.

Not only will you get a thorough cleaning, the dentist will look around your mouth for any potential problems, including those that can affect breath. For example, gum disease, also known as periodontal (say: per-ee-uh-DON-tul) disease, can cause bad breath and damage your teeth.

If you’re concerned about bad breath, tell your doctor or dentist. But don’t be surprised if he or she leans in and take a big whiff! Smell is one way doctors and dentists can help figure out what’s causing the problem. The way a person’s breath smells can be a clue to what’s wrong. For instance, if someone has uncontrolled diabetes, his or her breath might smell like acetone (the same stuff that’s in nail polish remover).

If you have bad breath all the time and the reason can’t be determined by your dentist, he or she may refer you to a doctor to make sure no other medical condition could be causing it. Sometimes sinus problems, and rarely liver or kidney problems, can cause bad breath.

Usually, there’s a less complicated reason for bad breath — like what you had for lunch. So keep up with your brushing and flossing and you should be breathing easy — and odor free!

Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD

Toddler With Bad Breath

Q1. My 4-year-old son has bad breath a lot of the time. I’m afraid he’ll be a social pariah if this keeps up. What can I do? Is it safe to give him breath strips or mints?

First, I want to reassure you that you are not the only parent whose child has bad breath (halitosis). In fact, a study published in Pediatric Dentistry in 2003 showed that 23 percent of young children had halitosis. In kids, as in adults, tongue coating, inflammation of the gums (gingivitis), and tooth decay are the most common culprits. Bad breath is thought to be caused mostly by “volatile sulfur compounds” — smelly by-products of the breakdown of proteins and sugars by bacteria in the mouth.

Proper dental hygiene can clean the mouth of protein and sugar so that they’re not available to bacteria. You should observe and, if necessary, assist your son as he brushes his teeth. He should load his toothbrush with a pea-sized amount of fluoride-containing toothpaste. He should make sure he brushes all the surfaces of the teeth (think of each tooth as having three exposed sides), and the teeth in back too. It’s particularly important to brush the tongue — especially the back third of the tongue — to help remove any coating that may cause bad breath.

Good dental health and regular, yearly visits to the dentist can certainly improve bad breath for most children; however, halitosis can also result from other problems.

A bacterial or viral infection in the mouth or throat, such as strep throat, can produce a foul mouth odor. In such a case, a child will usually complain of pain in the throat and will often have a fever. You should definitely take your child to his pediatrician if he has a fever and throat pain. Antibiotics are necessary to prevent complications of strep throat.

Other, less common, causes of bad breath are chronic postnasal drip from allergies, sinusitis, or a foreign body stuck in the nose. Children usually have other symptoms with these conditions, like a runny nose. Large adenoids and allergies, which increase the likelihood that a child will breathe through his mouth instead of his nose, can cause the mouth to become dried out, increasing the risk of both tooth decay and bad breath. If you notice that your son usually breathes through his mouth and seems to have chronic nasal congestion, he should be evaluated by his pediatrician.

I would start with recommending very good dental hygiene for your son. I do not recommend giving him breath strips or mints, because studies have actually found them to be ineffective in reducing halitosis. Good teeth (and tongue!) brushing should help with both bad breath and cavities. If your son’s halitosis persists despite good tooth/tongue-brushing technique, I recommend that you take him to his pediatrician for further evaluation.

Q2. My child has bad breath, especially when she is hungry. She now has dental problems, and her tongue is white. Why is this happening and what can be done?

— Anna, New York

Bad breath — or halitosis, to use the medical term — is a common problem in adults, but it can also occur in children as young as 2 or 3. The most common cause of halitosis is bacteria in the mouth, which can produce foul-smelling chemicals when they break down proteins. These bacteria are most commonly found on the back of the tongue and in between teeth.

Your daughter has both dental problems and halitosis. Some children are at increased risk for these problems because they are “mouth breathers.” When you breathe through your mouth instead of your nose, the amount of saliva in your mouth is reduced. If you have less saliva than you should, you are at increased risk for cavities and associated bacteria, which can cause bad breath. Mouth breathers often have a narrow mouth and may have some whitish discoloration of the tongue. Sometimes halitosis can be a sign of some other problem, such as a sinus or throat infection. Postnasal drip and heartburn (also called reflux) are additional possible causes of bad breath in children and may also be associated with whitish discoloration of the tongue.

Your daughter should definitely see a pediatric dentist, who can help with her dental problems and bad breath. In the meantime, she should take good care of her teeth. One of the best ways to improve her bad breath is to decrease the amount of bacteria in her mouth by keeping her teeth clean. Brushing her teeth and tongue, especially the back part of the tongue, can help. Flossing is very important, too, because bacteria that cause bad breath are often found between teeth, where a toothbrush can’t reach. The American Academy of Pediatrics has recommendations for proper dental hygiene for infants, children, and adolescents on its Web site. Good luck!

Learn more in the Everyday Health Kids’ Health Center.

Questions to cover with your pediatrician.

6 Reasons Your Child Has Bad Breath and What You Can Do About It

  • Bad breath, or halitosis, happens to all of us every once in a while. Children and babies seldom have bad breath, but toddler bad breath can still happen. Often it’s only temporary and goes away easily, and other times intervention is needed.

    6 reasons why my baby has bad breath

    Parents should begin practicing oral hygiene with your newborn just a few days after birth, and continue until they are old enough to do it properly on their own. But even with proper oral care, your child may still develop bad breath. See what’s causing your child’s stinky breath and what needs to be done about it.

    1. Poor oral hygiene

    “The main cause of bad breath in children is bacteria that stays in the mouth for long periods,” Dr. Carina De los Reyes, pediatric dentist and former president of the Philippine Pediatric Dental Society Inc. (PPDSI), told With poor oral hygiene, leftover food particles stay in the mouth — between the teeth, along the gum line, or on the surface of the tongue. Bacteria thrives on this, causing bad breath.
    Even for babies whose teeth are just starting to come out, proper brushing should not be neglected. “Brush at least twice a day, especially before going to bed,” says Dr. Georgina Roa-Remulla, pediatric dentist and director of the PPDSI. You don’t want cavity-causing food left in your child’s mouth and teeth overnight. Find the best tips for caring for your toddler’s teeth here.


    More from Smart Parenting

    2. A dry mouth

    Breathing through the mouth, sometimes because of a stuffy nose, or sleeping with the mouth open are just a few reasons your child’s mouth is dry. So how does this cause bad breath? A dry mouth has little or no saliva to keep odor-causing bacteria from accumulating.
    “Any time you reduce saliva in the mouth, you reduce the mouth’s ability to fight the bacteria that causes the bad breath,” Dr. Hugh Flax, a cosmetic dentist and past president of the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry, told Medical Daily. While we sleep, the body does not produce as much saliva as when we are awake, which may explain that unpleasant, but short-lived, morning breath.

    3. A smelly lunch

    Just like how it is for grown-ups, a lunch packed with pungent foods can cause bad breath in children. Garlic and onions and other smelly foods can temporarily affect a child’s breath as they go through his digestive system, says BabyCenter. A sugar-loaded treat, like candies or soda, can be particularly bad for your child’s breath (and teeth!) as bacteria is attracted to sugar. Teach your child to brush his teeth after every meal, especially if he’s had dessert, and make a habit out of it.


    4. Foreign objects

    Curious tots will sometimes stick things, like pieces of food or even a toy, up their nose. And when these objects get stuck in your child’s nostrils they can cause bad breath, especially if it’s food that’s already starting to putrefy and release an odor.
    “A clue to this cause is a foul-smelling discharge coming from only one nostril where the object is stuck,” says renowned pediatrician Dr. William Sears in an article for Parenting. If this is the case for your child, a trip to the doctor or dentist will solve the problem.

    5. A condition or illness

    Sinus infections (like a cough or cold), tonsillitis and allergies can also cause bad breath, says Dr. De los Reyes. The foul smell is caused by bacteria due to an infection, that this time is found in the upper and lower respiratory tract which makes its way to the mouth. Even bacteria from the stomach when bowel movement is not regular can cause bad breath, adds the pediatric dentist. When the infection clears up, your child’s bad breath should go away too. If it doesn’t, consult with a dentist to find other causes.


    6. Tooth decay

    Here’s the cause of bad breath that parents dread: tooth decay or cavities. Brushing will not get rid of bad breath that is caused by dental caries, tartar buildup, and dental abscess. Your child will need to go to the dentist for evaluation and examination.
    We all know that prevention via regular brushing will stop toddler bad breath from happening, so make sure you use the right kind of toothpaste for your little one. “Fluoridated toothpaste should be used as soon as the first tooth erupts. Fluoride is the best protection against dental cavities,” says Dr. De los Reyes. The PPDSI has guidelines on what to look for when buying toothpaste for children of different ages. Read about it here.
    Sources: BabyCenter, Parenting, KidsHealth, Medical Daily

Bad Breath & Fever in a Baby

Bad breath and a fever in a baby may seem like two unrelated symptoms, but various respiratory and sinus ailments can cause both. A fever requires careful monitoring by caregivers and a trip to a health care professional when the temperature reaches a certain level or persists despite attempts to lower it. Once the underlying cause of the fever is gone, the bad breath usually disappears as well.

Function of Post-Nasal Drip

Bad breath in an infant isn’t caused by bacteria stuck on or between teeth the way it may be for older individuals. Instead, it is likely caused by post-nasal drip. Under normal conditions, the glands in the nose and throat produce continuous mucus, which helps fight off infection and moisten air that is inhaled. This mucus is swallowed unconsciously. When an infant is ill with a respiratory or sinus ailment the secretions can thicken causing bad breath, according to the American Academy of Otolaryngology — Head and Neck Surgery.

Features During Illness

When an infectious agent enters the body, various reactions occur to fight off the foreign agent. These include the elevation of the body temperature, thickening of mucus secretions and various other symptoms, depending on the underlying cause. explains that a fever can make it more difficult for the virus or bacteria to reproduce. The thickened mucus and excess production can help expel the infectious agent from the body. When the mucus drainage thickens, it can cause an unpleasant breath odor.

Several different respiratory ailments can cause post-nasal drip and a fever. The common cold, caused by various viruses, can infect a baby of any age. explains that older children rarely have a fever with a cold, but a baby can have a temperature between 100 and 102 degrees Fahrenheit. The flu, another common viral infection can cause post-nasal drip and a fever. When a cold persists for more than 10 days, the baby may have a sinus infection. Both a fever and bad breath are common symptoms associated with sinus infections in children and infants, according to Additionally, infected or inflamed tonsils can cause bad breath, as well as a fever and other symptoms, points out.


Many viral causes of a fever and bad breath in a baby must be left to run their course. Home remedies like the use of a humidifier, saline nasal drops and increasing fluid intake can thin the mucus and reduce bad breath. When a bacterial infection is present, a health care professional may prescribe an antibiotic for the baby.


Vomiting or reflux that occurs with the flu or other illnesses can contribute to bad breath in an infant. This smell will be sour instead of foul, which is the way post-nasal drip makes the breath smell. Wiping the mouth out with a wet cloth can remedy this type of bad breath. Hoarseness, sore throat and trouble swallowing are other symptoms caused by post-nasal drip. An infant with these symptoms may have a dry or raspy cry that sounds like a barking seal. The baby may swallow hard or refuse to feed due to the discomfort associated with the throat.

Herpes Gingivostomatitis in Children

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Medically reviewed by Last updated on Sep 24, 2019.

  • Care Notes
  • Overview

What is it? Herpes (her-pees) gingivostomatitis (jin-jih-vuh-sto-muh-ti-tis) is a mouth infection. It is also called herpetic (her-peh-tik) stomatitis. This infection is common in young children. Your child may get this infection many times in his lifetime. Herpes gingivostomatitis is different from hand-foot-and-mouth disease and from herpangina. These diseases also have blisters in the mouth, but are caused by other viruses.

Causes: This infection is caused by a germ called a virus. Herpes is the name of the virus which causes the infection. This is the same virus that causes cold sores on the face or lips.

Signs and Symptoms: Your child may have sore open blisters and swelling of the lips, mouth, tongue, or hard palate. The hard palate is the front part of the roof of your child’s mouth. He may have a high fever and feel tired. It may be hard for your child to eat and swallow because of the pain. Your child may also have bad breath and a sore throat. The blisters usually heal in 1 to 2 weeks.

Care: You may give your child ibuprofen (i-bew-pro-fin) and acetaminophen (uh-c-tuh-min-o-fin) for his pain. These may be bought as over-the-counter medicine at grocery stores and drug stores. Do NOT give your child aspirin. Do not give your child ibuprofen if he is allergic to aspirin, has ulcers or kidney disease. You may also be given medicine to put on your child’s sores. You may be asked to help your child rinse or gargle his mouth and throat with salt water.

  • Give your child cool liquids to drink. This may help soothe the mouth and numb the pain. Good choices are milk, milkshakes, and clear liquids. Do not give citrus or carbonated drinks, such as orange or grapefruit juice, lemonade, or soda. These liquids will cause your child’s mouth to hurt more. Your child may want to use a straw if he has blisters on the lips or end of the tongue.
  • Your child may not feel like eating solid foods until his mouth feels better. Feed your child soft foods. Good choices are strained baby foods, soft fruits, mashed potatoes, applesauce, yogurt, and pudding. Your child should not eat salty, spicy, and hard foods.
  • After each meal, rinse your child’s mouth with warm water.
  • Wash your hands and your child’s hands often. This is especially important after going to the bathroom, before preparing food, and before eating.
  • Wash any toys that your child puts in his mouth before and after your child plays with them.
  • To keep from spreading the virus, tell your child not to share his toothbrush, drinks, or food with others. He should also wash his hands before eating and after going to the bathroom.

Call Caregivers If:

  • Your child will not drink and can not swallow.
  • Your child has pus or bleeding from the mouth.
  • Your child has a temperature over 100.4� F (38� C)
  • Your child becomes more irritable or will not stop crying.

Seek Care Immediately If:

  • Your child has a temperature of 100.4� F (38� C) or higher.
  • Your child is dehydrated (dry) from not getting enough fluids. Following are ways to tell if your child is dehydrated.
    • He has not urinated in 8 hours.
    • The soft spot on the top of the head is sunken (in babies).
    • No tears when crying.
    • Lips are dry and cracked.
  • Your child is weak or sleepy and hard to wake up.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. To help with this plan, you must learn about herpes and how it can be treated. You can then discuss treatment options with your caregivers. Work with them to decide what care will be used to treat you. You always have the right to refuse treatment.

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.

Medical Disclaimer

Shortness of Breath in Infants and Children

Step 3

Possible Causes

  • Diagnosis

    Small children are prone to BRONCHIOLITIS, a cough that also has a symptom of shortness of breath. BRONCHITIS and PNEUMONIA may also cause shortness of breath.

    Self Care

    Take your child to your doctor right away. Do not give cough or cold medications to any child under five years.

  • CROUP, EPIGLOTTITIS or an ABSCESS in the tonsils could cause these symptoms. All are serious infections and can block the airway or reduce its size.

    Take your child to your doctor right away. Consider calling an ambulance or taking the child to the closest emergency room if the shortness of breath is severe.

  • Occasionally, VIRAL BRONCHITIS will cause bronchial constriction just like asthma and cause shortness of breath.

    Take your child to your doctor right away.

  • For more information, please talk to your doctor. If you think the problem is serious, call your doctor right away. Do not give cough or cold medications to any child under five years.

  • ASTHMA can cause wheezing and can be serious, but it’s treatable.

    Take your child to your doctor right away.

  • Any small object can block an airway and cause shortness of breath or CHOKING.

    Take your child to your doctor right away. Watch your child closely and allow him or her to cough (this may remove the object). If necessary, carefully clear the airway with a sweeping motion of your finger. If your child is choking, perform the HEIMLICH MANEUVER immediately, and call an ambulance.

  • Short episodes of not breathing may be normal, while longer episodes may be a warning sign of SUDDEN INFANT DEATH SYNDROME (SIDS).

    Take your child to your doctor right away.

  • For more information, please talk to your doctor. If you think the problem is serious, call your doctor right away.

What could be causing my child’s bad breath?

Healthy children (and adults, too!) sometimes have bad breath, or halitosis. The most likely culprits:

  • A dry mouth. If your child is breathing through his mouth – because he has a stuffy nose, for example – then the bacteria in his mouth are more likely to grow undisturbed.
  • A foreign object. A pea, bean, a small toy, or another object that your child has put in his nose can cause him to have bad breath. This is especially common in babies and toddlers, who are notorious for putting things where they don’t belong!
  • Poor hygiene. Normal bacteria live in the mouth and interact with leftover food particles – between the teeth, at the gum line, on the tongue, or on the surface of the tonsils at the back of your child’s throat. This causes bad breath, especially if food is in the mouth for a long time.
  • Cavities, tartar buildup, or a dental abscess. These can affect children’s teeth at any age and cause bad breath. (Gum disease, or gingivitis, is a culprit in adults, but not usually in children.)
  • Eating pungent foods. If your child enjoys foods such as garlic and onions, they can temporarily affect his breath as they work through his system.
  • An illness or condition. Something like a sinus infection, tonsillitis, or even seasonal allergies can cause bad breath. And some children with gastroesophageal reflux disease (regurgitation of their food) have foul breath.

What can I do about my child’s bad breath?

In most cases, good oral hygiene is the answer.

If your child is a baby, try to wipe or brush his gums and any teeth after each feeding and before bedtime. You can also gently brush his tongue. (No need to use toothpaste at this age.)

Once your child is past the baby stage, brush his teeth (and eventually teach him to brush his teeth) at least twice a day and again before bedtime. Until he turns 2, use just a dot of toothpaste the size of a grain of rice (or a thin smear). After his second birthday, use a pea-size amount, and when he turns 5, use an amount the size of a small bean.

Read more about teething and tooth care for babies.

Learn more about tooth care for children.

Take your child for regular dental checkups to make sure that his teeth are healthy and clean. If they are and your child still has bad breath, take him to his doctor for a checkup.

Make sure your child washes his hands frequently with soap and water if he sucks his thumb or fingers, and wash his security objects often. If your baby uses a pacifier, sterilize it by running it through the dishwasher or dropping it in boiling water.

Finally, don’t make your child feel self-conscious about his bad breath. Try to deal with it matter of factly, even if it embarrasses you a little.

Should my child use mouthwash?

No, because mouthwash will only mask the problem. (Besides, if your child isn’t yet preschool age, he’ll probably have trouble swishing and spitting.) Just make sure that his teeth are brushed several times a day.

Five Surprising Reasons For Bad Breath In Children

Having your kids brush their teeth before they go to bed each night helps them learn good oral hygiene practices. And while twice-daily toothbrushing is good for developing teeth, it always enough to stop bad breath from occurring. Bad breath isn’t always solely an oral health issue, there can be other causes that need a different solution. Here are five surprising causes of bad breath in children and how to stop them.

Sinus Infection

Have any of your kids complained about a sore throat or stuffy nose lately? It might be a sinus infection. Sinus issues cause fluid to collect in the nasal passages and throat, making your child’s throat 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 for a visit and see if antibiotics will be prescribed.

Foreign Objects

It may not be your first thought, but your child’s bad breath could be the result of something stuck in 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. Pediatrician Dr. William Sears explains that when an object gets lodged in a child’s nasal passages it can create 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.

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 can prescribe an antibiotic to help take care of the problem.

Dry Mouth

Kids are pretty active and, with all that running around, it can be hard for them to remember to stay hydrated. Bad breath in children that play sports is often caused by a lack of fluids. If kids don’t get enough water, their mouths will produce less saliva for washing away odor-causing bacteria. It might not seem like a big deal, but a lack of saliva can also even lead to tooth decay and cavities; it’s worth the extra care to make sure kids drink their water.

Oral Issues: Tooth Decay and Gum Disease

Even the best brushing and oral hygiene habits aren’t enough to get rid of a smell that can come from tooth decay and other oral infections. Whether it’s a cavity, gum disease or even mouth sores, infections of the mouth can secrete an odorous scent. Kid-specific toothpastes such as Colgate® Kids will help prevent issues from spreading, but brushing can’t heal a cavity. If your kids have tooth decay, it’s time to see your dentist.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that bad breath is the result of your kids skipping the most important part of their usual bedtime routine. Even with regular brushing, other types of bad breath can make bedtime stories unpleasant. Do some research and hone in on the cause of the issue and take the appropriate action.

When you think of bad breath, you generally don’t think of a baby. After all, babies smell sweet unless they need their diaper changed, right? The fact is that while it is not all that common, infant bad breath may indicate something is wrong.

Health Issues That Cause Infant or Newborn Bad Breath

If your baby has bad breath, you’ll need to search for the cause. The causes of a baby with bad breath are varied. Bad breath in infants and newborns should not be dismissed because it may signal an infection in the mouth or throat.


One possible reason for foul breath could be sinusitis. If your baby suffers from sinusitis, she will experience other symptoms like a nasal discharge and sneezing. While sinusitis symptoms mirror cold symptoms, sinusitis lasts longer than a cold. This condition can be the result of allergies, and it leads to stuffy sinus passages. As a result, the baby breathes solely through her mouth which dries saliva.

Less saliva than normal leads to a dry mouth, which may create bad breath. If you suspect a sinus infection, schedule an appointment with your health care provider to determine if your baby needs antibiotics.

Enlarged Tonsils

Other medical conditions that can lead to stinky breath are enlarged tonsils or adenoids. Healthy tonsils are generally pink and spot free, but infected ones are red, swollen, can have noticeable white spots, and smell terrible. Bacteria collects in the back of the throat and, paired with the sour smell of infection, this can cause stinky breath. If your child’s tonsils look swollen or red, you should have your doctor examine her. Your pediatrician may prescribe an antibiotic to help take care of the infection.

Acid Reflux

Acid reflux can cause bad breath in infants. This condition is generally accompanied by the regurgitation of food. Acid reflux happens because the ring of muscle between the esophagus and the stomach is not yet fully mature and as a result, stomach contents flow backward resulting in your baby spitting up. This condition is rarely serious and should decrease as your baby gets older. Acid reflux usually does not continue after the age of age 18 months.

Reflux in babies usually clears up on by itself but there are a number of things you can do to help ameliorate the symptoms:

  • Give your baby smaller, but more frequent, feedings.
  • Burp your baby part way through her feeding.
  • Hold your baby upright for 20 to 30 minutes after feeding.
  • Try switching the type of formula you feed your baby.
  • Try using a different size nipple on your baby bottle. Nipples that are too large or small can cause your baby to swallow air.
  • If you’re breast-feeding, try eliminating dairy products, beef or eggs from your diet, to test your baby for allergies.

Medications aren’t normally recommended for infants with uncomplicated reflux. Your pediatrician may suggest trying an acid-blocking medication such as Zantac for babies 12 months or younger or Prilosec for toddlers age 1 year or older. Controlling your baby’s acid reflux may eliminate her foul breath.

Less Serious Causes of Your Baby’s Bad Breath

Bad breath in babies is not always the result of a health condition. The food or drinks you provide to your baby may stick to the tongue or around the gums and cause bacteria to grow, which in turn, causes the rotten smell. The growth of most odor-causing bacteria can be accelerated by less serious triggers like thumb sucking and using a pacifier, for example.

Thumb Sucking

This is a common childhood activity that happens in about 80 percent of infants and children. Thumb sucking can lead to a dry mouth, increased bacteria and ultimately, bad breath. Most children will give up this habit between the ages of 2 and 4; only 12 percent of children will still be sucking their thumbs at age 4. Young children under the age of 4 don’t require any treatment to stop the habit, and parents should wait to see if their child stops the behavior without intervention. To help alleviate infant bad breath that’s caused by thumb sucking, use a warm, soft washcloth to clean your baby’s mouth, gums and tongue regularly.

Pacifier Use

When your baby sucks on a pacifier, saliva and oral bacteria are transferred onto the pacifier. This may result in an unpleasant smelling pacifier which can then be transferred to your baby’s mouth the next time she sucks on the pacifier. Also, if a pacifier is used multiple times without cleaning, this allows bacteria to multiply more quickly. To eliminate the stench of bad breath, you can stop using a pacifier altogether. If your baby isn’t ready to give up his paci, take time to sterilize it often to kill the bacteria and germs present. Most children will stop using pacifiers between the ages of 2 and 4 years old. If your child is reluctant to give up the pacifier consider talking to your pediatrician or dentist for tips.

Sugar in Diet

When bottle-fed babies are put to bed with milk or formula, this can lead to the bacterial growth in the mouth and ultimately bad breath. To minimize bad breath and oral bacteria, practice good oral care with your baby.

  • Wipe down your baby’s gums at least twice a day especially after feedings or before bed. Wiping her gums will wash off bacteria and prevent it from clinging to gums.
  • If your baby depends on a bottle to help him fall asleep, switch it out for a bottle of water which will not encourage the growth of bacteria that leads to bad breath.
  • If your baby is a little older, a diet that includes sugary drinks and other treats like pudding can help bacteria grow and cause bad breath.

Foreign Object

Occasionally babies lodge small foreign objects such as a pea or a piece of a toy in their nose without your knowledge. Not only does this cause poor breathing but it can also cause bad breath. If you believe that this is the reason for your child’s bad breath, see your health care provider as soon as possible so she can check your child’s nasal passages and remove the object.

When Infant Bad Breath May Indicate a More Serious Problem

Most of the time, bad breath in young children may be a sign of infection. You should speak with your pediatrician or dentist if your loved one has bad breath. In rare instances, bad breath can be a sign of a more serious condition.


Type one diabetes occurs when your child’s pancreas stops producing insulin, a hormone that helps your body get energy from food. When this happens, the body’s immune system attacks and destroys the cells that produce insulin in the pancreas (beta cells). There are a number of symptoms, that may be related to this condition, including foul breath.

Chronic Kidney Disease

This occurs when there is irreversible kidney damage or a reduction in kidney function. UptoDate, a clinical decision tool, notes that 20.1 percent of children under the age of 2 have this condition. Symptoms of chronic kidney disease can include:

  • Poor appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Headache
  • Stunted growth
  • General feeling of sickness
  • Chronic urinary tract infections
  • Urinary incontinence
  • Bad breath
  • Stomach mass

Optimal Oral Health for Your Baby

If your baby suffers from bad breath, it is best to bring the problem to your pediatrician’s attention. The doctor will be able to diagnose sinusitis, infections or other health conditions that may be the culprit behind your baby’s bad breath. Also, keep your baby’s mouth clean and reduce the use of items that increase bacteria and cause bad breath. Providing your loved one with good oral care will help them maintain fresh breath.

Causes and Cures of Bad Breath in Kids

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.


Why Do Toddlers Have Bad Breath? The Answer Isn’t Just “Because, Toddlers”

Being a parent means, for better or worse, becoming accustomed to some less-than-pleasant smells. And if you’re used to the sweet smell of your baby’s breath, stinky toddler breath can as distressing as it is unpleasant. Before you panic, though, and start to envision a future for your child that includes them being “that person” in the office with perpetually smelly breath, it’s important to learn why toddlers have bad breath. With a little knowledge, stinky mouth air doesn’t need to be a cause for alarm.

Toddlers can have bad breath for a few reasons, including: because they have a cold that’s causing them to breathe through their mouths instead of their noses, because they have an object in their nose, or because they have poor dental hygiene. Luckily, “Bad breath is a common problem found even in healthy toddlers,” according to Mom Junction, and so long as you start to locate the reason for your toddler’s bad breath, you shouldn’t worry that it will turn into a lifelong problem.

When toddlers have colds they often mouth-breathe because their nose is stuffy. Mom Junction explains, saying that mouth-breathing will disturb the bacteria in your toddler’s mouth. “This promotes oral anaerobic bacterial growth, excessive mucous in the throat, lack of oxygen and saliva,” according to the site, which leads to bad breath. Thumb sucking or sucking on a blanket can also cause your toddler to have a dry mouth and, as a result, bad breath.


Parenting expert Dr. William Sears writes in Parenting that “chronic sinus infections are one of the most common, but hidden, causes of bad breath.” Sinus infections can cause fluid to collect in the sinuses and drip down the back of the throat. “The mouth’s resident bacteria feed off of this mucus drainage and decompose it, releasing odorous gases,” Dr. Sears says. If your child has had a lingering cough or snotty nose, he or she might be suffering from a sinus infection. You can put them in the bathroom with a steamy shower running to help clear out their nose or use a nasal saline spray. And, of course, you can always consult your child’s pediatrician.

Strep throat is another culprit that can cause bad breath in toddlers. Dr. Blair Hammond writes in Everyday Health, “A bacterial or viral infection in the mouth or throat, such as strep throat, can produce a foul mouth odor.” You’ll be tipped off that this might be the cause of your toddler’s bad breath if your toddler complains of a sore throat and is running a fever. Antibiotics prescribed by a doctor will be needed to clear your toddler of the infection that’s causing the bad breath.

One of the most distressing reasons a toddler could havebad breath is actually that they have something stuck up their nose. Toddlers are prone to doing totally weird things, not least of which is sticking a pea, bead, small pebble, or small toy up their nose. Dr. Sears explains that “a foreign body putrefies and releases an odor,” and while it’s absolutely disgusting, it can be easily removed by a doctor.


Of course, another reason your toddler could have bad breath is that they aren’t brushing their teeth thoroughly enough. According to BabyCenter, “Normal bacteria live in the mouth and interact with leftover food particles – between the teeth, at the gum line, on the tongue, or on the surface of the tonsils at the back of your child’s throat.” Leftover food particles can cause your toddler to have bad breath, and can also lead to cavities, tartar build up, or even abscesses if you aren’t careful. Dr. Sears writes on his own site, “Don’t expect children under three to clean their teeth well on their own.” If you have a toddler, toothbrushing supervision and assistance is wholeheartedly recommended!

Check out Romper’s new video series, Bearing The Motherload, where disagreeing parents from different sides of an issue sit down with a mediator and talk about how to support (and not judge) each other’s parenting perspectives. New episodes air Mondays on Facebook.

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