Halitosis in adults is relatively common – we all worry about it – but toddler bad breath is much more unusual. This is probably because the most common causes of halitosis, such as gum disease and post nasal drip, are generally only seen in adults. When we notice that the breath of a child is unpleasant, it is more surprising, and often more urgent. It can be a signal of a more serious medical problem.
We sometimes notice bad breath in child diseases. The most common of these is probably childhood diabetes – ketoacidosis is characterized by a high blood sugar, dehydration, and a sweetish bad breath. Sweet smelling bad breath in a child could be a sign of serious illness and should be dealt with very promptly. Another common cause of adolescent and toddler bad breath is throat infection: bacteria and viruses frequently cause pharyngitis and tonsillitis in the young, and strept throat can lead to debilitating complications. Any red sore throat accompanied by a fever that doesn’t resolve on its own in a couple of days should be assessed by a physician. Other diseases that can change the odor of the breath include kidney and liver diseases, and some cancers, but these condition are relatively rare in children.
When toddler bad breath is not caused by an underlying condition, the most common cause is probably dehydration. Dehydration can occur easily in a child, and can result from a number of factors: insufficient fluid intake during hot dry weather, strenuous exertion without taking regular drinks, diarrhea and vomiting, consumption of diuretic beverages such as drinks containing caffeine, respiratory infection, and other things. Bad breath in child dehydration is often initiated by a drying out of the mouth tissues – when saliva production is decreased, the bacteria responsible for halitosis are able to proliferate. The more of them there are, the more severe the toddler bad breath will be.
Of course, some instances of bad breath in child situations are simply caused by a recently consumed food or beverage. Ask your child what she has eaten in the last little while (and remember that we don’t always know what our children are putting in their mouths – never assume). Foods like garlic and onions, curry, and spicy foods like pepperoni can leave a distinct odor on the breath for a while after they are eaten. Strong flavored confections like black licorice can do it too. And if the toddler bad breath you detect has a chemical or medicinal smell, double check that your child has not ingested a cleaner or other chemical, or a medicine left within reach. If you suspect this is the case, seek medical help immediately.