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Rooting Out the Causes of Oral Malodor in Children

It’s not just adults who can develop bad breath. Children also can offend.

When oral malodor manifests in kids, if it’s not due to a recent encounter with Aunt Josephine’s garlic-infused lasagna or the onion-laden burger consumed at lunch, the most likely cause is probably poor oral hygiene. Particularly if it’s an ongoing issue.

Food particles that become trapped in and around teeth, if not removed, offer the perfect place for harmful bacteria to proliferate. Left unchecked, such bacteria can lead to caries, dental abscesses, gingivitis, and periodontal diseases—all of which can be a source of bad breath. In fact, caries has been shown to be a significant risk factor for oral malodor in kids.1

But while lack of proper oral hygiene regimens may be to blame for bad breath in children, other conditions may also be at fault.


This condition is often associated with the elderly, but kids can also experience it, though perhaps for different reasons. These can range from stuffy noses and post-nasal drip due to colds or allergies—or even foreign objects shoved by curious kids into their nasal cavities—all of which result in mouth breathing… and drying up of saliva.

Saliva helps to clean the mouth, neutralizing oral bacteria. In its absence, food particles and pathogens remain in the mouth for longer periods, free to damage enamel and sour breath.


In addition to problems occurring in the oral cavity, areas adjacent to the mouth can be a source of malodor. Conditions such as sinusitis may also be responsible for bad breath in a child. Sinusitis occurs when the nasal passages become inflamed due to viruses, bacteria, fungi, or allergies. Fluid buildup in this location provides the perfect breeding ground for bacteria.

Tonsilitis, a common childhood ailment, can also result in oral malodor. Because swollen tonsils can trap nasal secretions and food particles, bacteria can also find a firm footing there, resulting in unpleasant breath.

Other areas from which bad breath may arise include ears and throat. Or the source may lie deeper, resulting from medical conditions affecting other internal structures of the body as a whole. Among these, diabetes, cancers, and diseases in the stomach, liver and kidneys are recognized causes of bad breath in children.


First, of course, preventive measures such as proper diet, limited sugar intake, twice-a-day brushing and flossing, and regular dental checkups are immensely beneficial in keeping oral health on the straight and narrow. But if that doesn’t do the trick, a visit to the pediatrician may also be in order to identify any underlying problems.

Dental hygienists can play a huge role in addressing this problem with their littlest patients through prophylactic treatment, and application of fluoride varnish and mouthrinse. They are also perhaps in the best position to introduce their patients to fun toothbrushes and kid-friendly interdental tools.

Many of the latest oral care implements are designed for little hands and developing dexterity. They may also feature all sorts of imaginative ways to capture the attention of children long enough to help them brush properly. By helping young patients build their oral health care skills, dental hygienists are on the front lines of fighting not only childhood oral disease and halitosis, but also helping to identify where potentially more serious issues lay.1


  1. Ewumi O. Causes of bad breath in children. Medical News Today.


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