It is not unusual for a child to wake up with bad breath, or halitosis. Throughout the day, saliva washes away unwanted food debris. As soon as a child falls asleep, saliva production decreases. Therefore, the longer a child sleeps, the more bacteria are produced in the mouth, causing bad breath. However, there are some cases in which bad breath can be a symptom of something more serious.

Causes of Bad Breath
There are several reasons why a child might have bad breath:

  • Poor dental hygiene—most common cause.
  • Mouth-breathing—it dries out the mouth and allows bacteria to grow. Children who consistently breathe through their mouths might have a cold, sinus infection, allergies, or enlarged tonsils or adenoids blocking the nasal passages.
  • Sucking—if a child sucks on fingers or a pacifier, the object may develop an odor from saliva and bacteria. A pacifier may also have food residue on it.
  • Tonsil stones—collections of food and bacteria that get stuck in the crevices of the tonsils.
  • Cavities or tartar buildup.
  • Sinus infection—other symptoms include a cough, fever, face swelling, or a thick yellow-green nasal discharge.
  • Pharyngitis (throat infection)—child would have a sore throat along with bad breath.
  • Seasonal allergies—cause postnasal drip. Other symptoms include a dry cough that gets worse at night, itchy eyes, and a runny nose.
  • A foreign object shoved up a child’s nose—if the object is left there, it can rot and cause an infection. The odor will come from the nose and not the mouth.
  • Eating pungent foods like garlic and onions.

Preventing and Treating Bad Breath
Parents should consider the following tips in order to prevent and treat bad breath in young children:

  • Teeth should be brushed three times a day after meals using a soft-bristled toothbrush. The tongue should also be brushed.
  • Dental floss should be used everyday to reduce mouth odor. Young children will need help from parents.
  • Children should eat a good breakfast to stimulate the flow of saliva and reduce oral bacteria. Fibrous foods are highly recommended.
  • Have child rinse frequently with water and drink plenty of fluids to help reduce dry mouth.
  • Child should consume frequent drinks and snacks throughout the day to provide opportunities for bacteria to be moved around the mouth and flushed away.
  • Treat cold and allergy symptoms promptly to reduce post-nasal drip and prevent mouth breathing.
  • Make sure your child’s hands are washed frequently with soap and water if fingers or thumb are sucked.
  • Sterilize pacifiers or other sucking objects frequently by boiling or running them through the dishwasher.
  • Take your child for regular dental checkups to make sure that teeth are healthy and clean.

*Young children should not use alcohol-based mouthwash since it can dry out and damage the oral tissue and be poisonous if ingested improperly or in large amounts (young children tend to swallow mouthwash).

When to Call the Doctor
Parents should contact their child’s pediatrician or dentist if any of the following symptoms appear:

  • If bad breath does not go away within five days after careful dental hygiene.
  • If bad breath is accompanied by a cough that lasts more than 10 days.
  • If bad breath is accompanied by a fever.
  • If there is heavy, green nasal discharge from one nostril—this could be a sign of infection from a foreign object lodged in the nose.
  • If there is bleeding around the gums, visible tooth decay, or a discolored tooth.

By Sandi Schwartz – Science writer and mom.