Dental causes of bad breath otherwise known as halitosis include poor oral hygiene, tooth decay and gum disease. Gum disease is rare in children so more often the cause is poor oral hygiene or tooth decay. The bacteria that cause halitosis lives on food debris and dental plaque on teeth. The bacteria feed on sulphur containing substrates, producing hydrogen sulphide in the process. It is this sulphide that gives off a “rotten egg smell”.

Girl covering her mouth

The main odour causing sites in the mouth is the back of the tongue, the areas between the teeth and under the gum line. Ensure your child brushes twice a day, flosses regularly and brushes his or her tongue to prevent plaque build-up.

Dry mouth can also cause bad breath. It is normal to wake up with “morning breath” as saliva production drops during the night. If this persists throughout the day, your child may be persistently breathing through his or her mouth, causing the mouth to dry out and bad breath to occur. Dry mouth can also be caused by thumb sucking, chewing or sucking on a blanket or by certain medications. Sugar-free gum or sour candies encourage saliva production and make sure your child drinks plenty of water throughout the day.

Certain illnesses can trigger bad breath as well. If your child has an infection or congestion in the sinuses or nasal cavities, the post nasal drip can lead to bad breath. Tonsillitis can cause bad breath in children, especially if food gets caught in the crevices of the tonsils. If the tonsils have pockets of infection that open and begin to drain, the resulting products of infection can lead to bad breath. If your child has bad breath along with other symptoms of an illness, a visit to the pediatrician is in order.

Bad breath in children that doesn’t respond to the above measures should be checked out. There are some very uncommon, but tell-tale, odours that can indicate a more serious condition. Breath that smells like acetone can be a symptom of diabetes.

By Dr Chin Shou King, Dental Surgeon, Director, T32 Junior Marketing Director.

This article was first published in The New Age Parents e-magazine.

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