What Causes Bad Breath in Toddlers (What To Do About It)

Addressing your child’s bad breath may be embarrassing. But living in denial can be far more worrisome. Whether it's a discovery or an ongoing issue, determining the cause of your child's bad breath is essential for effective treatment.

Let's talk about why it happens and how to manage it accordingly. 

Common causes of bad breath in toddlers

As a pediatric dentist in Culver City, bad breath or halitosis is a condition I deal with regularly. 

Is it normal for a toddler's breath to smell, though? The answer is no.

While bad breath is considered a common oral health issue in kids, it's important to note that it is usually temporary.

If your child's bad breath persists beyond what you consider a reasonable period, it's best to consult your child’s pediatrician or a dentist to determine its possible causes.

How long bad breath lasts in kids differs depending on what's causing it. Usually, when kids have that temporary bad breath, it’s because of the following reasons:

Poor oral hygiene

Proper oral hygiene in toddlers is sometimes overlooked due to factors like resistance to routines, sensory issues, parental time constraints, and teething discomfort.

When this happens, tiny particles of food can get stuck between your kid’s teeth and along their gums. At the same time, their mouths can be home to lots of bacteria.

The areas in the mouth most frequently associated with foul-smelling debris leading to halitosis are typically found between the teeth, along the gums, and on the surface of the tongue.

These bacteria love to feast on the leftover food particles and create a sticky film called plaque. 

If this plaque isn't adequately removed through regular brushing and flossing, it can start to break down the food particles. It then releases some not-so-pleasant-smelling compounds that can lead to bad breath.

These compounds that make bad breath are called volatile sulfur compounds. Do you know what else expels the foulest smells due to sulfur compounds?

  • Rotten eggs (hydrogen sulfide)
  • The stinky smell that comes from feedlots and barnyards (methyl mercaptan)
  • The pungent odor associated with the ocean (dimethyl sulfide)

These compounds are generated by bacteria that can live within your kid’s oral cavity. Now let’s talk about how your poor choice of diet can lead to your child’s bad breath.


Sometimes, “bad breath triggers” might not seem as harmful as they appear. Some parents unconsciously and excessively feed their kids most of these silent, sulfur-inducing foods.

We're talking about giving unreasonable amounts of protein-rich foods, such as red meat and dairy products, and sulfur-producing foods like garlic and onions.

Imagine your kid’s body as a mechanism that processes food and breaks down protein. When protein is broken down, it produces amino acids. Cells then utilize the absorbed amino acids to construct various proteins and a small number of other macromolecules, including DNA.

Their body is limited to effectively breaking down a specific quantity of protein within a given timeframe. 

If your child overeats protein, their body can struggle to break it down properly. This can lead to the creation of amino acids, which might make their breath smell bad.

Also, naturally occurring bacteria from their tongue can feed on the amino acids found in milk and cheeses, resulting in a foul odor and increased acidity in the mouth. 

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) guidelines outline that the daily quantity of dairy foods suitable for children depends on age. The recommendation for toddlers under two years old is approximately 1 2/3 to 2 cups. 

Children aged 2 to 8 are advised to consume around 2 to 2 ½ cups, while children aged 9 to 18 are recommended to have about 3 cups.

Coated tongue

If your kid’s bad breath is accompanied by a white film coating on their tongue, they might have a white tongue or a coated tongue.

The coating might spread across their whole tongue, the back part only, or sometimes in patches. Seeing a white tongue might be concerning, but usually, it just means bacteria, food bits, or dead cells are stuck on your child's tongue.

However, this buildup doesn't just sit quietly – it often causes unpleasant breath and leaves a bad taste in your kid's mouth.

White tongue in kids can be caused by the following:

  • Poor oral hygiene
  • A diet lacking in fruits and vegetables
  • Dry mouth
  • Oral thrush or infection
  • Digestive problems

You should be concerned if your child's white tongue persists for more than a few weeks, causes discomfort, or is already linked to other symptoms (e.g., fever, difficulty swallowing, changes in taste).

Seeking medical guidance in these situations is highly recommended.

Tooth decay or dental infection

A cavity on its own doesn't have a smell. However, it creates a space where bacteria and plaque can flourish within a damaged tooth, eventually causing bad breath.

Many bacteria naturally exist in our mouths and can cause bad breath. Our mouth also provides a warm and nurturing environment for these bacteria to flourish. So, whenever your child eats, these bacteria feed on the leftover food particles in their decayed teeth and, unfortunately, release smelly compounds such as waste.

Dry mouth

Dry mouth or xerostomia in children can contribute to bad breath when there’s not enough saliva to wash away food particles, bacteria, and dead cells. 

It is a highly prevalent condition in adults. However, children, especially those with underlying conditions affecting salivary production, may have an elevated risk of dry mouth. 

While xerostomia is often associated with dehydration, it could also stem from medication side effects.


Xerostomia also contributes to gum diseases and tooth decay by promoting excessive bacterial plaque growth. 

These issues may worsen when children with dry mouths consume sugary drinks and candies. The reduced saliva in these cases makes young patients more susceptible to oral infections.

How do I get rid of my toddler's bad breath?

Regardless of the cause, you can address your toddler's bad breath by practicing better oral care at home or taking them to a dentist. Nonetheless, these simple yet actionable tips will help you get rid of your kids’ bad breath:

Empower your kids to take charge of their oral care

Teaching your kids about maintaining a healthy smile goes beyond brushing and flossing—it's about letting them take control of their oral well-being. It may sound like an impossible task, but it can be achieved by instilling good habits early on.

All it requires is a burst of creativity (and a leap of faith) to make it happen. Here are some steps you can do to pull it off:  

Show and tell

Be their oral care role model. Demonstrate proper brushing and flossing techniques by showing how you brush and floss your teeth. Turn it into an enjoyable family bonding and hands-on experience you can share.

Make them the superhero of their journey

Let them imagine they battle against the nastiest teeth villains and that every brush counts. Make them embrace their role as the superhero of their own brushing story.

To make it fun, set a timer or play their favorite song. Help them understand that every tooth deserves attention by encouraging them to brush their teeth for two minutes twice a day. 

Explain the importance of cleaning their tongue 

Again, you can turn it into a game where they can imagine they're rescuing their taste buds from villains. But remind them to do it gently so it will not hurt or bruise their tongue.

Choose the right tools

Take them to pick out their toothbrush and toothpaste. Let them choose flavors and designs they love to make brushing exciting. If your child loves Disney characters, buy a brushing kit with these specific designs. Just make sure to choose a toothbrush with soft bristles. 

By choosing brushing tools that captivate your kid's attention, they are more likely to engage in their oral hygiene routine with enthusiasm, developing healthy habits with a touch of joy.

Going for a good mix of healthy foods

Promoting healthier teeth and fresher breath in kids through a proper diet involves making mindful choices. But this doesn't mean your child's food choice will be as dull as a bland, unseasoned snack.

Remember that your goal is to offer nourishment while eliminating their bad breath. And it all starts by providing these healthy snacks:

Apple slices 

With their high-water content and chewy texture, apple slices promote saliva production, acting as a natural teeth cleanser.

Apples are also rich in vitamins (specifically vitamin C) and antioxidants that enhance overall oral health and strengthen gum tissue. 


Combining taste, texture, packaging, and health benefits makes yogurt an irresistible snack. But what makes it even more beneficial is its probiotic content that helps slow down harmful bacteria growth. 

Keep in mind, though, that yogurt options vary widely. Some well-known yogurt brands contain significant amounts of extra sugars, which can promote harmful bacteria growth.

When choosing your kid’s yogurt, keep in mind the following:

  • Select plain yogurt.
  • Opt for varieties with minimal or no additional sugar.
  • Consider Greek yogurt, as it has the most probiotic content.


Plain yogurt raises the pH levels in a person's mouth which means that it will lower tooth decay. The calcium and protein improve the overall health of your teeth.


According to a study, consuming yogurt items was linked to a reduced likelihood of losing teeth due to periodontal disease, likely by influencing the composition of the oral microbiome.

Orange slices

Like how the adage goes: “Life tastes better with orange slices.” 

When keeping your child's oral health and smile in optimal shape, this quote is one thing to remember. 

Oranges pack vitamin C, that's great for gums and fighting gum disease. Munching on those fibrous slices produces more saliva to wash off food debris and bacteria in the mouth. And the zesty citrus flavor even gives your child’s breath a fresh fruity kick.

Unveil the thrill of dental visits

There's no getting around the fact that even a minor breath issue can significantly impact your child's well-being. 

Hence, providing proactive support to tackle these concerns can be crucial in aiding your child's journey towards achieving their personal oral health goals.

So, it's important to acknowledge their efforts, celebrate their milestones, and follow them up with positive reinforcements.

Regular dental visits are another vital component in this journey, as they provide professional guidance and monitoring.

If you live around Culver City and you’re looking for a trusted pediatric dentist, visit us at United Dental Care. Whether you're seeking to ensure your child's mouth stays fresh and odor-free or need expert advice on pediatric dental care, we're here to support you every step of the way!

In case it’s your child’s first time visiting the dentist, you can read this guide for a smooth and fruitful process. Nevertheless, you can talk with our pediatric dentist by booking your appointment online.


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