7 Causes Of Bad Breath In Toddlers And Remedies To Treat It

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Bad breath is a common term for the medical condition called halitosis. It is common in toddlers as most of the bacterial activity may occur in the mouth, nose, or teeth (1). There could be many reasons for bad breath, some of which could indicate an underlying medical condition. But does that mean bad breath is always a matter of concern?

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.

7 Causes Of Bad Breath In Toddlers

Bad breath could be a common problem 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) (2):

1. Dry mouth

A dry mouth could lead to bad breath. If your little one is breathing through the mouth because of a stuffy nose, then it is likely to disturb the mouth bacteria and cause bad breath. This promotes oral anaerobic bacterial growth, excessive mucus 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.

2. Poor oral hygiene and dental care

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

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 a white tongue and bad breath. Gingivostomatitis is another condition where the toddler has a sore mouth, red gums, and bad breath.

Although rare, infections caused by helicobacter pylori could also cause bad breath (3).

7. Medications

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

Having bad breath through the day could be 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 start building up, leading to a 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 postnasal drip, congestion, and sore throats.

Home Remedies To Get Rid Of Bad Breath In Toddlers

Oral health is 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 (1):

  • Teach your tot to brush their 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 toddler 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 the toddler’s hands using soap.
  • If your toddler is habituated to sucking fingers, wash the toys and other objects often.
  • Sterilize their pacifier, if your toddler still uses one.
  • Visit a dentist from as soon as your toddler reaches 12 months of age. Regular dental checkups could help prevent bad breath related to oral hygiene.

Do not use mouthwash for your toddler. It could be difficult for your child to spit and swish. Moreover, mouthwashes 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. However, you could check with your dentist if there are any medicinal mouthwashes that could be used for toddlers.

When To See A Doctor?

You should regularly take your little one for dental checkups to maintain clean and healthy teeth (4). If your child 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 might 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.

Frequently Asked Questions

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

If your toddler has bad breath in spite of good oral health, they might need medical investigations for medical conditions, such as respiratory infections, diabetes, kidney and liver disease, and digestive disorders. Also, some other medical conditions such as cat’s syndrome and sweaty feet syndrome could also lead to bad breath.

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 the 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 mucus drainage and emit foul odors.

If the tonsils are large in your toddler, the nasal secretions, and even food gets deposited in the deep pits of the tonsils. These collections tend to decompose and emit odors (5).

Oral hygiene is important at any age, be it a toddler or grown-up. For toddlers, bad breath could sometimes be due to poor oral hygiene and other benign conditions like pungent food. But at times, it is possible that the reason for bad breath is medical.

Whatever is the case, working on the cause could help relieve bad breath. In some cases, basic home remedies could be useful, but for some, they may not. So, it is wise that you consult a doctor in case the bad breath in your child does not seem to be normal.

Do share ideas and tips for maintaining better oral health in toddlers, by commenting below.


MomJunction's articles are written after analyzing the research works of expert authors and institutions. Our references consist of resources established by authorities in their respective fields. You can learn more about the authenticity of the information we present in our editorial policy.
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Dr. Shailesh Shenoy

Dr. Shailesh Shenoy has a post-graduate degree in Paediatric and Preventive Dentistry (MDS) from Yenepoya Dental College (2011). He is an associate of the Yenepoya Dental College and runs his own Pediatric and Multi-Specialty Dental Clinic in Mangalore. With 8 years of experience, Dr. Shenoy is also a member of The International Development Association (IDA) and The Indian Society of... more

Dr. Ritika Shah

Dr. Ritika Shah is a dental surgeon with more than seven years of clinical experience across various cities in India. During her clinical practice, pediatric dentistry was her particular area of interest, and she constantly thrived to inculcate the latest advancements in the field of dentistry into her practice. Dr. Shah's deep interest in the well-being of babies and children... more