When your child runs to you excited to tell you about their latest adventure and the first thing you notice is the odor on their breath, you may wonder how someone so cute can smell so badly. Like so many other parents, you value good oral hygiene and strive to teach your child good habits morning and night. Somewhere along the road, however, something went awry, and so you swap out your mom hat for your detective hat and set to work looking for the cause of your child’s odiferous problem.

Stinky Breath

(Mojpe / pixabay)

What is halitosis?

Before you panic, it is essential to understand that we all get bad breath or halitosis from time to time, especially first thing in the morning. Subjective or pseudo-halitosis describes an odor that only the person in question notices. You may notice the smell before getting up to brush your teeth, but those around you never realize there was a problem. This type of halitosis resolves quickly with brushing, flossing, or mouth rinses.

True halitosis, however, is a more substantial problem. The smell is noticeable to other people and is persistent. Brushing and flossing alone may not resolve the issue. If your child regularly has bad breath even after brushing, you may need to look deeper to find the root cause of the problem.

What causes halitosis?

The odor responsible for bad breath is usually the result of excess bacteria or fungus in the mouth, nose, or throat. Wherever these microorganisms thrive, the smell follows.

Dry Mouth

Saliva plays a significant role in keeping our mouths clean. It washes away food particles that feed bacteria, as well as the bacteria themselves. When the mouth is dry, this regular flushing does not happen, allowing bacteria free reign to set up shop in your child’s mouth. Encouraging your child to drink water throughout the day will help keep their mouth moist and clean.

Your child’s habits may contribute to this problem. Finger-sucking and pacifier use can worsen the problem. Similarly, children who snore or breathe through their mouths will have a drier oral environment. Often children breathe through their mouths or snore when their nasal passages are congested. Addressing the underlying cause for the congestion, such as seasonal allergies, will help them breathe normally and improve oral health.


Upper respiratory infections, tonsilitis, strep throat, and sinus infections can all cause children to develop foul-smelling breath. The combination of the infection itself, the excess drainage of nasal secretions down the back of the throat, and the mouth breathing that may result create the perfect storm. If your child is sick, chances are the halitosis will resolve as he or she recovers. However, if the problem persists, it can be a sign that there is a more chronic issue at play. In these cases, we recommend that you talk to your child’s primary care physician about the best way to resolve the underlying illness.

Beads, Peas, and Raisins

As strange as it may sound, the foreign objects that young children decide to stick in their noses can lead to bad breath problems. If they go unnoticed, these objects block nasal passageways, forcing the child to breathe through their mouth. They can also cause an infection to develop within the nose. Given time, this infection and a dry mouth are sure to catch the attention of your own nose. If you think your child may have an object lodged in their nose, they will need to see a doctor to have it removed.

Stinky Foods

Some foods and spices are naturally strong smelling. You may worry about your own breath after eating onions or garlic. These foods, along with other spices, contain molecules that give them their distinct odor. The body absorbs these molecules as we digest the food and excretes some of them through our respiratory system, making our breath smell. Eating high protein foods such as fish, cheese, and meat can compound the problem. Limiting your child’s consumption of these known stinky foods can help mitigate their halitosis.

What can I do to get rid of halitosis?

There is no silver bullet that will knock out every case of bad breath. Halitosis is not the problem but rather a symptom of another problem. The key is identifying what the underlying cause is.

The first line of defense against bad breath is an excellent oral hygiene routine that includes:

  • Brushing – Children should brush their teeth twice a day with the appropriate toothpaste. Remember to use only a pea-sized amount with young children, making sure they spit it out in the sink. If your child is still learning how to brush effectively, you might consider helping or brushing alongside them until you are confident they can do it well independently.
  • Flossing – Begin flossing when your child’s teeth close or touch one another to remove food that may become trapped in between teeth.
  • Tongue Cleaning – Teach your child to brush their tongue gently every day. The tongue can be a breeding ground for microorganisms in their mouths.
  • See a Dentist – Take your child to the dentist regularly for check-ups and cleanings.

If improving your child’s oral hygiene does not improve their halitosis, you may need to dig deeper. Talk to your child’s dentist to find out what they recommend. Their dentist may refer you to a doctor who will examine your child for underlying medical conditions that could be the cause. Good oral hygiene is enough to keep the problem in check for some children, but for others, the problem persists until their tonsils are removed, or they start medication for their acid reflux. Every child is unique, and the solution to their halitosis should be too. Whatever the cause, teaching your child good oral care habits now will pay them dividends for years to come.

If you need a kids dentist in the West Haven area, Felt Family Dentistry has served families in Davis and Weber County since 2003. To treat each patient with the highest level of quality, integrity, and care, we employ the latest in dental technology in our office. We take pride in providing the best experience for patients of all ages as we care for the health of your teeth, gums, and jaw.