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Bad Breath for Kids

At the mention of a bad smell, we can probably think of a time when we’ve noticed the odor from sweaty gym socks or stinky trash or a certain food you really don’t like. Sometimes we’ll even notice the breath of a friend or family member and it can make us sensitive about the state of our own breath. If you are noticing a bad smell from your child’s mouth or have been told they have bad breath, don’t worry, you are not alone! Many parents face this challenge. Did you know, one out of every four people think they have bad breath? And in most cases, it’s easy to fix!

Why Bad Breath is Bad

As dentists, we are the best resource for curing bad breath. We work with our young patients and their families to recognize, discuss, and treat this problem because we know it’s not just bad for your child’s health, but bad breath can make them feel bad too.  

Emotional Connection

When children are aware that they have bad breath, it’s normal to struggle with confidence and avoid close conversations with family, or candid laughter with friends. This lack of confidence can make anyone feel embarrassed, sad, and uncomfortable in groups.

Unfortunately, many kids are unaware they have bad breath. It can be difficult to explain to children why their friends may now be avoiding or acting differently around them. The emotional distress can make it hard to stay focused in school and easy for kids to blame themselves when others don’t want to be near.  

Health Connection

Because most bad breath originates in the mouth, your pediatric dentist is the first line of defense. In some cases, bad breath can be a symptom of a bigger problem in your child’s body. We’ll work closely with their doctor to help your family find a solution when the source of the bad odor is not in the mouth.

What are the Causes of Bad Breath?

Understanding the causes of bad breath can help your family know what changes to make.   While it can be tough to determine exactly which of these problems are leading to the unpleasant smell, we have tools to address each one.


Bad breath caused by certain foods can be made better by changing what your child eats. It’s important to keep a balanced diet to stay healthy, but these are the top foods you may want to avoid:


  • Onions

  • Garlic

  • Tuna fish

  • Fermented vegetables (like sauerkraut, pickles, or yogurt)

  • Large amounts of dairy (like milk and cheese)

If your child often eats these foods, plan how you can adjust their diet. Or consider rearranging meals so they can eat these “bad breath foods” only during meals for which they may be able to brush their teeth immediately after, like breakfast or dinnertime.

Poor Oral Hygiene


Oral hygiene is our ability to brush and floss our teeth regularly to remove all the germs and plaque. Dental plaque is “home” for the bacteria that cause bad breath. These bacteria create a by-product of stinky gases called Volatile Sulfur Compounds or VSCs.

When we clean away plaque, we get rid of these bacteria. When we get rid of these bacteria, we stop the production of smelly gases that make up bad breath. The problem is that many people do not clean away plaque properly.  

As a young person, your child’s teeth are still growing, so having good oral hygiene can be very difficult. It’s important to teach brushing and flossing with the proper technique. Watch a video to learn more, here.

Dental Problems

The most common cause of severe bad breath is a dental infection. When plaque and bacteria sit on our teeth for too long, it can cause cavities that rot your child’s teeth and smell really bad. Large cavities are the perfect hiding spots for bacteria. And as cavities worsen, more bacteria grow.  

If you think your child has a cavity or problem with one of their teeth, it’s important to talk to your pediatric dentist right away.

Treatment for Bad Breath

Your family does not have to live with bad breath! And the good news is, you and your child can begin at home.


Many kids with bad breath can start improving their symptoms at home by making a few small changes.

1.      Dietary Changes – Encourage your family to help monitor which meals make your child’s breath worse. It may take some tracking to find which foods have the strongest effect. As you adjust their diet, you should notice an almost immediate improvement in their breath.

2.      Brush Up on Your Oral Hygiene – (Pun intended) Dental plaque needs to be removed every day. This takes time and great technique. Ensure your child is using toothpaste and brushing in small circles. Encourage them not to rush, and not to be afraid to ask for help with the hard to reach spots. And don’t forget to brush their tongue! The more we remove germs and plaque, the better we reduce the bacteria in our mouths, and make our breath smell nice and fresh.

3.      Hydrate! – Saliva helps flush away dental plaque and food debris. When your child’s mouth feels dry, their bad breath may smell worse. Drinking lots of plain water keeps their mouth moist and naturally rinses away the bad breath germs.

Professional Care

If you do not notice an improvement in your child’s breath after taking the above self-care steps, it’s time to talk to your pediatric dentist.

1.      Oral Hygiene Education – Because plaque buildup is the most common reason for bad breath, your child’s dentist will first evaluate their current toothbrushing technique. There may be areas they are missing, and we can recommend ways to help you and your child clean their mouth better at home.

2.      Treatment of Cavities – Sometimes you or your child may not know if they have a cavity that’s making their breath smell bad. If your child doesn’t get a cavity filled, their breath will keep getting worse. Dentists can treat your child’s cavities right away and possibly eliminate their bad breath overnight.


Has your child ever had a cavity before? Cavities are common and easy to fix with a filling. Learn more about fillings here.


3.      Other Tricky Spots – Dentists are great at finding the spots our toothbrushes can’t easily reach. Some kids get buildup on their tongue or way back by their tonsils.   We can even recognize a dry mouth and help your child treat it.  

4.       Refer You to Your Medical Doctor – When all oral causes of bad breath have been repaired or ruled out, we will work with your child’s medical doctor to help you solve persistent bad breath. Some young patients will need to see an ear, nose and throat specialist (ENT) due to serious sinus or throat infections. Other kids may need help from a gastroenterologist (GI specialist) for issues in their stomach and/or esophagus.

Bad Breath: Your Next Steps

Bad breath is not a condition your family has to live with! We understand both the emotional and physical effects, and we are here to help you and your child find a permanent solution today.