Being a parent means, for better or worse, becoming accustomed to some less-than-pleasant smells. And if you're used to the sweet smell of your baby's breath, stinky toddler breath can as distressing as it is unpleasant. Before you panic, though, and start to envision a future for your child that includes them being "that person" in the office with perpetually smelly breath, it's important to learn why toddlers have bad breath. With a little knowledge, stinky mouth air doesn't need to be a cause for alarm.
Toddlers can have bad breath for a few reasons, including: because they have a cold that's causing them to breathe through their mouths instead of their noses, because they have an object in their nose, or because they have poor dental hygiene. Luckily, "Bad breath is a common problem found even in healthy toddlers," according to Mom Junction, and so long as you start to locate the reason for your toddler's bad breath, you shouldn't worry that it will turn into a lifelong problem.
When toddlers have colds they often mouth-breathe because their nose is stuffy. Mom Junction explains, saying that mouth-breathing will disturb the bacteria in your toddler's mouth. "This promotes oral anaerobic bacterial growth, excessive mucous in the throat, lack of oxygen and saliva," according to the site, which leads to bad breath. Thumb sucking or sucking on a blanket can also cause your toddler to have a dry mouth and, as a result, bad breath.
Parenting expert Dr. William Sears writes in Parenting that "chronic sinus infections are one of the most common, but hidden, causes of bad breath." Sinus infections can cause fluid to collect in the sinuses and drip down the back of the throat. "The mouth's resident bacteria feed off of this mucus drainage and decompose it, releasing odorous gases," Dr. Sears says. If your child has had a lingering cough or snotty nose, he or she might be suffering from a sinus infection. You can put them in the bathroom with a steamy shower running to help clear out their nose or use a nasal saline spray. And, of course, you can always consult your child's pediatrician.
Strep throat is another culprit that can cause bad breath in toddlers. Dr. Blair Hammond writes in Everyday Health, "A bacterial or viral infection in the mouth or throat, such as strep throat, can produce a foul mouth odor." You'll be tipped off that this might be the cause of your toddler's bad breath if your toddler complains of a sore throat and is running a fever. Antibiotics prescribed by a doctor will be needed to clear your toddler of the infection that's causing the bad breath.
One of the most distressing reasons a toddler could have bad breath is actually that they have something stuck up their nose. Toddlers are prone to doing totally weird things, not least of which is sticking a pea, bead, small pebble, or small toy up their nose. Dr. Sears explains that "a foreign body putrefies and releases an odor," and while it's absolutely disgusting, it can be easily removed by a doctor.
Of course, another reason your toddler could have bad breath is that they aren't brushing their teeth thoroughly enough. According to BabyCenter, "Normal bacteria live in the mouth and interact with leftover food particles – between the teeth, at the gum line, on the tongue, or on the surface of the tonsils at the back of your child's throat." Leftover food particles can cause your toddler to have bad breath, and can also lead to cavities, tartar build up, or even abscesses if you aren't careful. Dr. Sears writes on his own site, "Don't expect children under three to clean their teeth well on their own." If you have a toddler, toothbrushing supervision and assistance is wholeheartedly recommended!
Check out Romper's new video series, Bearing The Motherload, where disagreeing parents from different sides of an issue sit down with a mediator and talk about how to support (and not judge) each other’s parenting perspectives. New episodes air Mondays on Facebook.