I often find myself face to face with parents who want to discuss their child’s bad breath.  So this week let me odor-up, or should I say order- up, some info on bad breath in kids.

First, most bad breath in children is due to bacterial germs releasing sulfur compounds in the mouth.  The more germs, the more sulfur and the worse the breath. What increases the number of bacterial germs? Problems like tooth decay or gum disease can do it. So, can overuse of a dirty thumb, a pacifier, or chewing on a security blanket or old stuffed animal. And if your child is a mouth breather their saliva will dry up at night leaving nothing  to wash these bacteria down the throat where they can no longer cause a problem.

Here are some effective treatment tips for bad breath:

·        Have your child brush and floss their teeth carefully for at least 2 minutes several times a day.

·        Scrape or brush the tongue to get rid of the bacteria that may collect there.

·        Keep the thumb, blankets and pacifier well-washed if these are considered culprits.

·        Encourage lots of fluids or if your child is old enough, have them chew sugarless gum, which can increase saliva production to help wash bacteria out.

We don’t recommend using mouthwashes to treat bad breath in younger children. They buy you a few hours of improvement but you run the risk of your child ingesting high alcohol content if it’s gargled  in excess, or worse, if they swallow it. Don’t forget that certain foods can contribute to bad breath including those which contain onions and garlic.  

If despite these suggestions you find the bad breath is no better, it might be a result of a sinus infection, allergies, or a tonsil problem.  It might also be happening because your child put something up their nose. If it doesn’t come out for days, it will cause the bad odor you smell on their breath. Your pediatrician or dentist can help sort out other causes of the problem especially if you see no improvement with good tooth brushing. 

Hopefully, tips like this will allow you to give your child’s bad breath the brush off when it comes to making this problem an easier one for you and your child to swallow.

Lewis First, M.D., is chief of Pediatrics at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital at the University of Vermont Medical Center and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the Larner College of Medicine at UVM. You can also catch “First with Kids” weekly on WOKO 98.9FM and WPTZ Channel 5, or visit the First with Kids video archives.




Lewis First, MD, is chief of Pediatrics at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the Robert Larner, M.D. College of Medicine at the University of Vermont.

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