9 Causes Leading To Bad Breath In Toddlers

bad breath in toddlers

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Imagine a cute face. And then imagine bad breath! Not so appealing, is it? Bad breath is annoying at any age, and if it is associated with a baby, it reduces his cute quotient. Bad breath is not uncommon in toddlers. Most times poor dental health habits are the reason, but there are other causes too. The good news is that there are no serious repercussions in most cases.

This means that you need not have to worry but find the underlying cause and target it. MomJunction helps you understand the various reasons for bad breath in toddlers, and how you can resolve it. Then, we also answer some of the most frequently asked questions on the matter.

9 Causes Of Bad Breath In Toddlers

Bad breath is a common problem found even in healthy toddlers. If your toddler is suffering from bad breath or halitosis, you will have to figure out the reason first.

Here are a few common causes:

1. Dry mouth

A dry mouth leads to bad breath. If your little one is breathing through mouth because of his stuffy nose, then it is likely to disturb the mouth bacteria and cause bad breath. This promotes oral anaerobic bacterial growth, excessive mucous in the throat, lack of oxygen and saliva. All these conditions lead to the excretion of foul-smelling compounds called volatile sulfur compounds or VSCs from the bacteria.

Other toddler habits like thumb-sucking or stuffing the mouth with a blanket may also leave the little one’s mouth dry, promoting bacterial growth.

[ Read: 11 Ways To Stop Your Baby From Thumbsucking ]

2. Poor oral hygiene

Poor hygiene, improper brushing of teeth and food leftovers in the mouth for a long time may lead to bad breath. The mouth bacteria reacts with the food particles stuck in between the teeth, left on the back of the tongue, or on the surface of tonsils.

3. An object in the nose

Toddlers may place tiny food particles such as a bean, pea, or a toy in the nostril. This can make them breathe through the mouth and have bad breath.

4. Poor dental care

Poor dental care like a dental abscess, tartar buildup, or cavities can cause bad breath.

5. Pungent foods

Eating pungent foods like onions, garlic, or cheese, may cause temporary bad breath.

[ Read: Toddler Dental Care ]

6. Ill health

A toddler suffering from illnesses such as tonsillitis, sinus, gastroesophageal reflux (GERD), or seasonal allergies may experience bad breath. Conditions like gingivitis, thrush (infants and children), and acute sinusitis in toddlers can cause white tongue and bad breath. Gingivostomatitis is another condition where the toddler has a sore mouth, red gums, and bad breath.

7. Harsh chemicals found in tooth cleaners

Toothpastes made from harsh chemicals harm your toddler’s dental health. Toothpaste containing SLS (sodium lauryl sulfate) harms oral tissues and promotes bacterial growth.

8. Medications

At times, medicines can cause smelly breath in toddlers. The process of the breakdown of chemicals in medicines can lead to bad breath.

9. Adenoidectomy

The surgical removal of the adenoid is called adenoidectomy. It is recommended due to frequent adenoid infections, recurrent ear or sinus infections, or due to enlarged adenoid. Following surgery, bad breath is common and disappears within a few weeks (1).

Having bad breath through the day is due to any of the above reasons. Bad breath after sleep is a common phenomenon. It happens as saliva works actively when the toddlers are awake, keeping the mouth clean and fresh. But, while sleeping, the saliva is not produced, and the mouth muscles stop working. The bacteria starts building up, leading to bad smell.

Note: Toddlers are more prone to bad breath if they go to daycare, as they get in contact with other tots carrying respiratory viruses. These viruses cause post nasal drip, congestion, and sore throats.

What can you do to come out of this situation? Read the tips below to free your toddler from bad breath.

[ Read: Symptoms Of Tonsillitis In Toddlers ]

Home Remedies To Get Rid Of Bad Breath In Toddlers?

Oral health is the key. The best thing to do is to generate more saliva and reduce bacterial growth. Take the following steps to deal with bad breath in your toddler:

  • Teach your tot to brush his or her teeth well to fight bacteria. Brushing after every meal with a soft toothbrush would remove the food stuck in the teeth, preventing decay.
  • Keep your toddler’s tongue clean using soft cleaners.
  • Get your baby to drink more water. It helps in enhancing the production of saliva.
  • Use a non-abrasive toothpaste. Use an American Dental Association-accepted fluoride toothpaste.
  • Floss your little one’s teeth every day to remove the odor-causing food particles from the teeth.
  • To effectively clean the debris and plaques, use a new toothbrush every three months.
  • Frequently wash his hands using soap.
  • If he is habituated to sucking his fingers, wash his toys and other objects often.
  • Sterilize his pacifier, if he uses one.

Do not use mouthwash for your toddler. He will find it difficult to spit and swish. Moreover, mouth washes only cover the underlying problem. Many types of mouthwash use alcohol, which is just a masking agent. They only worsen bad breath by promoting dry mouth conditions.

[ Read: Tips To Get Your Toddler To Brush His Teeth ]

When To See A Doctor?

You should regularly take your little one for dental checkups to maintain clean and healthy teeth. If he has a persistent bad breath, consult the dentist without any delay. Good oral and dental care should ideally end the problem of bad breath.

If the halitosis in toddlers lasts even after the mouth is determined healthy, you may have to go for additional tests to diagnose the underlying cause. Toddlers suffer from bad breath problems not only due to bad oral care but also because of some diseases. If you can sense an unusual or harsh odor, visit the doctor immediately.

A flu virus or throat infection in toddlers can cause a fever, loss of appetite, and bad breath. Once the underlying cause of the fever is gone, the bad breath disappears.

Thus, good oral and dental care would help to keep bad breath in toddlers at bay. Also, teaching good dental care habits at an early age will have a long-lasting impact. It requires a lot of patience to deal with bad breath in toddlers. Just do not make your little one too conscious about this!

With so many things that we have told here, you might just have a few questions in mind! Read our FAQ section below to find some quick answers.

[ Read: Hygiene Tips For Preschoolers ]


1. Which diseases cause unusual odor from toddler’s mouth?

If your toddler has bad breath in spite of good oral health, he needs medical investigations. Below is a list of uncommon, but telltale odors due to diseases:

DiseaseType of Odor
Diabetes or acetone, alcohol, phenol, or salicylate ingestionAcetone
Urinary tract infections or kidney failureAmmonia
Odor of cats syndromeCat’s urine
Tonsillitis, gingivitis, sinusitis, tonsil stones, lung abscess, dental cavitiesfoul-smelling
Liver failureraw liver
Odor of rancid butter syndromeRancid butter
Arsenic, phosphorus, organic phosphate insecticides, or thallium poisoninggarlic
Typhoid feverfresh baked bread
Odor of sweaty feet syndromesweaty socks

2. Why do chronic sinus infection and tonsils cause bad breath?

Experts categorize chronic sinus infections as one of the most hidden yet common causes of bad breath. Signs of sinus infection are cold, yellow discharge from nose, exhaustion, cough, etc.

Due to the condition, fluid collects in the nasal passages and sinuses. It drips down into the throat and settles on the back of the tongue. Thus, the resident bacteria of the mouth react with the settled mucous drainage and emit foul odors.

If the tonsils are large in your toddler, the nasal secretions, and even food get deposited in the deep pits of the tonsils. These collections tend to decompose and emit odors.

Oral hygiene is important at any age, be it toddler or grown up. Do share ideas and tips for maintaining better oral health in toddlers, by commenting below.

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