Why do kids have bad breath?

Bad breath is something that happens to everyone, regardless of age. Most of the time, halitosis, the medical term for bad breath, is a consequence of poor oral hygiene. It normally goes away after eating, drinking, and cleaning teeth. Nonetheless, it can be quite upsetting if it happens frequently, even after a thorough two-minute twice-a-day brushing session —  especially for kids. Our little ones are not always the most tactful when handling awkward social situations so if your breath smells, they let you know as soon as they get a whiff of it, and everyone within spitting distance will hear about it too.

Halitosis can cause a child to face some social awkwardness, but it can also be a sign of something else altogether, which makes it a bit challenging for parents to tell whether the foul odor originating from their child’s mouth is a medical issue or hygiene-related.

Understanding the different causes of halitosis can help you pin down the reason for your little one’s bad breath and know when it’s time to visit your doctor or schedule an appointment with the dentist. Let’s take a look at these causes of halitosis in kids.

Poor Oral Hygiene

The effectiveness of toothbrushing depends on how often — two minutes, twice a day — and how well your little one brushes their teeth, gums, and tongue. If your child’s oral routine falls short in any area, plaque and tartar will start to build up on their teeth and gums. This sticky substance is home to the harmful mouth bacteria that causes bad breath.

What to Do

Scheduling regular teeth cleanings with Dr. Jeff can help remove any accumulated tartar and odor-causing plaque buildup from those nooks and crannies in your little one’s mouth that a toothbrush may not always reach. Remember to also make tongue brushing a part of your little one’s oral routine even before they can hold a toothbrush and start flossing as soon as two teeth touch so it becomes a habit for them.

Oral Infections

When accumulated plaque hardens into tartar and it’s not removed regularly or thoroughly, it can lead to oral infections such as gingivitis and cavities. Tartar can irritate the gums, causing swelling and the formation of deep pockets between the gums and teeth where food and bacteria can build up over time. Just as in adults, gum disease has a particularly unpleasant odor, and large untreated holes in the teeth can allow bacteria to stick in the cavity itself, which can cause an unpleasant odor.

What to Do

Both gingivitis and cavities need the immediate attention of a dentist in order to get your child’s oral health back on track.

Improper Cleaning of Oral Appliances

Oral appliances like mouth guards, nightguards, or removable braces can also cause halitosis if they’re not properly cleaned on a regular basis. Such appliances provide the perfect environment for the buildup of food remains, bacteria, and fungi that result in a distinctive malodor from your child’s mouth.

What to Do

Always remember to bring your child’s oral appliances with you to your child’s dental appointments. It will give your dentist a chance to examine and clean them and also rule them out as a cause for your little one’s bad breath.


Perhaps one of the most common causes of bad breath in kids is dehydration. When your little one forgets to drink enough water, their bodies don’t have enough liquid to produce saliva, which helps keep the mouth clean and reduces odor-producing bacteria. Snoring or mouth breathing can also make saliva in the mouth evaporate, while finger sucking and pacifier use can lead to dry mouth, a condition that makes it easier for foul-smelling bacteria to accumulate inside the mouth.

What to Do

The physical act of drinking water alone can help remove food particles from the mouth during the day and between brushing sessions. It also encourages the production of saliva, the mouth’s cleaning agent. However, if your child’s bad breath is the result of dry mouth from regularly sleeping with their mouth open, staying hydrated may not take care of the smell. You’ll need to consult with your child’s pediatrician or dentist for proper treatment.

What to Do About My Child’s Bad Breath

Having bad breath once in a while is normal with kids. Your little one may have simply forgotten to brush their teeth that morning. But if the unpleasant odor lingers even after implementing a solid oral routine and regularly cleaning all oral appliances, you may need to schedule an appointment with a dentist. Dr. Jeff will examine your child’s teeth and gums and work with you to create a treatment plan that gets your child’s oral health back on track.