Why Does My Child Have Bad Breath?

Child with bad breath caused by cavitiesChildren can develop bad breath for the same reasons that adults do. If bad breath is a problem, your child’s dental hygiene routine may need some extra help. Regular brushing of the teeth is good, but it is often not enough. In some cases, additional factors are at work, and a more detailed investigation is necessary to identify and treat them.

Oral Causes

Garden-variety halitosis in children arises when bacteria act on plaque and food particles that collect in the mouth. Other factors such as dry mouth, postnasal drip, sinusitis and dental problems such as cavities increase the odds or severity of bad breath. The worst halitosis occurs when dying oral cells become lodged in the crevices at the back of the tongue.

Non-Oral Causes

Bad breath can also be caused by factors that exist outside the oral cavity. For example, several types of medicine, including antihistamines, bronchodilators,  and antidepressants can cause a dry mouth that leads to halitosis. A course of antibiotics can also lead to bad breath via a temporary imbalance of oral bacteria.


When Dr. Feldhaus is evaluating a child for potential halitosis he first takes a detailed medical history, including notes on the current or past use of any medications. The next step is a thorough clinical examination, including a check for gum disease, salivary gland problems,mouth sores, dental decay, faulty tooth restorations and issues with orthodontic appliances.


Gently cleaning the tongue, particularly the middle third of it, can disrupt the coating of bacteria and debris that may be the main source of the problem, Ravel writes. Flossing is also key, but children younger than 8 years old generally need help from an adult. If the bad breath is because of a dry mouth, the child should drink plenty of sugar-free fluids; the dentist may also recommend chewing sugar-free gum. The restoration of teeth damaged by cavities can solve some cases of bad breath, as can the treatment of gum disease through improved oral or hygiene or, in more severe cases, medications and surgery.