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Bad Breath (Halitosis)

What is bad breath?

The complaint of bad breath is unusual in children and the cause should be uncovered and dealt with directly. When your child's breath has an unpleasant odor it could be caused by food, dental problems, or by another underlying problem. The problem may be recent or a long-standing one.

What causes bad breath?

Many things can cause bad breath. Some causes include:

  • Poor saliva flow at night that causes a dry mouth (bad breath in the morning can be normal)
  • Eating pungent foods, such as onions or garlic
  • Poor brushing, flossing and dental care
  • Sucking on a thumb or other object
  • A symptom of a disease or tooth decay
  • Postnasal drip caused by having a lot of colds or sinus infections

How can I take care of my child?

  • If your child sucks his thumb, a blanket, or other object, the bad breath will go away when this habit is given up. If your child is over age 4 years, ask your child's healthcare provider about some ways to discourage this habit before the permanent teeth come in.
  • Have your child brush his teeth 3 times a day. Make sure your child uses dental floss every day to help reduce mouth odor. Parents need to help children younger than 8 years of age with flossing.
  • Have your child gently brush the top of the tongue with a toothbrush every day. Do not let your child use a mouthwash that contains alcohol. It drys the mouth, and mouthwashes can poison very young children.
  • Make sure your child eats a good breakfast to help stimulate the flow of saliva.
  • To help reduce dry mouth, it helps to rinse the mouth with water, drink plenty of fluids, and chew sugar-free gum.
  • Get your child into the habit of seeing the dentist on a yearly basis.

When should I call my child's healthcare provider?

Call during office hours if your child continues to have bad breath and you cannot find the cause.

Written by Barton D. Schmitt, MD, author of “My Child Is Sick,” American Academy of Pediatrics Books.
Pediatric Advisor 2013.2 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2009-06-18
Last reviewed: 2012-05-14
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
© 2013 RelayHealth and/or its affiliates. All rights reserved.
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