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Bad breath

All ages

If your child has bad breath, the first step is to work out what’s causing it. Treating the cause will usually sort it out. Bad breath, or halitosis, usually isn’t anything to worry about.

Causes of bad breath in children and teenagers

Most children have ‘bad breath’ when they wake up. This usually goes away after your child has something to eat and drink and cleans her teeth. This sort of bad breath isn’t anything to worry about.

Other causes of bad breath in children and teenagers include mouth or throat infections, blocked nose, sinusitis, gum disease (gingivitis), tooth decay or abscesses.

In teenagers causes of bad breath might also include extreme diets (for example, a high-protein diet), illnesses like anorexia nervosa, poor dental hygiene (particularly if your teenager wears braces or other orthodontic devices) or smoking.

Rarely, medical problems might make a child’s breath smell bad or unusual. These problems include illnesses like lung disease (including bronchiectasis and lung abscesses) and diabetes. Kidney or liver problems might cause bad breath, but this is rare too. If you have a family history of these problems, let your doctor know.

Bad breath is also called halitosis.

When to see your doctor about bad breath

You should take your child to the GP if you’re worried, or if your child’s bad breath doesn’t go away after trying the treatment strategies below.

Treatment for bad breath

Good dental hygiene is the best way to prevent bad breath.

Your child should brush his teeth and tongue twice a day, as well as floss every day. He could also try using an antibacterial mouthwash.

Make sure your child drinks plenty of water and cuts down on sugary drinks and caffeinated drinks like coke and coffee.

If an infection is causing your child’s bad breath, she might need  antibiotics. Speak to your GP if you think this could be the problem.

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Last updated or reviewed
11-09-2015

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Raising Children Network is supported by the Australian Government. Member organisations are the Parenting Research Centre and the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute with The Royal Children’s Hospital Centre for Community Child Health.

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