All About Kids Bad Breath

It can be a wonderful thing to be a kid, but when children have bad breath, their siblings and playmates are very likely to give them a hard time. If the children in your neighborhood have nicknamed your child “Stinky,” it is probably a good time to look into the causes of bad breath.

Baby Bottles and Bad Breath

Infants usually don’t have bad breath. By the time a child is 18 to 36 months old, however, many children have halitosis.

Most of the time the problem is falling asleep with a baby bottle in the mouth. Sleeping with a bottle in the mouth causes constant exposure to the sugars in milk or juice. Bacteria on the surface of baby teeth generate lactic acid that erodes the enamel and leaves brown or black spots. Parents usually notice discoloration on the upper teeth first.

Halitosis is not the worst problem that can be caused by baby bottle tooth decay. Adult teeth may not come in properly if baby teeth are not repaired, and the procedure usually involves putting the child under general anesthesia. It’s painless for the child but anxiety-inducing for the parents. It also costs about US $5000 and is not covered by insurance.

The solution to both problems, however, can be very simple: Don’t allow your child to sleep with a baby bottle in mouth. If your child insists on having the bottle, at least make sure it is filled with water rather than milk or juice.

This can be easier said than done. Some children insist on going to sleep with a bottle filled with milk, not water. For these toddlers with discerning palates, dilute the milk, adding more and more water to the mixture for the nighttime feeding until eventually the child is satisfied with just water in the bottle. It also helps to clean the child’s first teeth with gauze once a day until there are enough teeth to begin brushing.

It’s also important to avoid the use of teething biscuits—and never, ever give your child soft drinks by bottle.

Sippy Cups and Halitosis

Probably the most insidious cause of children’s bad breath is the ubiquitous use of sippy cups. A sippy cup, for the uninitiated, is a closed container with a small, raised, rectangular opening from which a child can drink without spilling the beverage. Sippy cups save a lot of spills and dirty clothes, but they can also be ruinous for oral hygiene.

The problem with sippy cups is that the child drinks the liquid not just through the mouth but between the teeth, coating the teeth and gums with sugar (or, worse, ice cream or gelatin/Jell-O). The constant bath of sugar on the teeth and gums causes the same problems encountered in infants who sleep with bottle in mouth.

The ideal way to handle this problem is to teach your child how to drink from a glass or cup at the earliest age possible. Or you could use the approach taken by billions of parents before the invention of sippy cups: Give your child liquids with a spoon. Just don’t be remiss in your hydration schedule any more than you would be with your feeding schedule. It’s essential to the child’s general health to get enough fluid as well as enough food.

Noses and Bad Breath

Most children go through what is sometimes impolitely called the “snotty-nosed kid” stage. Stuffed-up noses are common in kids between the ages of 1 and 6.

The problem sometimes is colds and congestion. Young immune systems have to build up resistance to the 150 or so strains of colds viruses they can encounter in the world around them. Once a child comes down with a cold caused by a particular strain of virus, he or she probably will be never have to worry about getting infected again, but the average person has to have 150 or so colds before enjoying some degree of immunity. If you are a parent, it may seem like your child gets all 150 strains of colds viruses in a row, and shares them with you.

Treating colds will treat kids’ bad breath. This kind of bad breath is temporary, and has the “benefit” of keeping other children away so they don’t get infected, too. Persistent bad breath, however, points to other issues.

Sometimes kids put various objects of their noses. Sticks, stones, coins, erasers, lint, and items perhaps left unmentioned can block the nasal passages and cause bad breath. A cold that doesn’t seem to cause fever or fatigue is a sign that the problem may be something other than infection. A doctor or nurse practitioner can identify and remove most lodgers in the nose relatively easily and with minimal pain.

Sometimes the problem is a deviated septum or an incompletely developed nasal canal. Be sure to mention your child’s bad breath when you visit the doctor or pediatrician so the nose will be checked.

Neglected Oral Hygiene

There are children who tie their shoes, button their buttons, scrub behind their ears, and brush their teeth automatically at the age of five. Probably they are not your children.

It is usually a mistake to rely on a child who has not reached the age of six (and, in some cases, a child who is well past six) to take care of oral hygiene on his or her own. Children may “forget” to brush, or they may fail to brush all their teeth, or they may cause injury to their gums by brushing up and down or by using the wrong kind of toothbrush.

Bad breath may result. Huge dental bills may result, too.

Taking care of this kind of bad breath requires close parental supervision. Your child will have a happier social life with sweet smelling breath, and you’ll be spending a lot less time and money at the dentist’s office. Just be sure your child learns how to brush and floss the right way.


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