Farquhar: Bacteria causes children’s bad breath

A common question dentists are asked is: “My child has bad breath. Why is that and what can we do about it?”

A common question dentists are asked is: “My child has bad breath. Why is that and what can we do about it?”

There are a number of causes for this.

To start with, humans are covered inside and out with bacteria.

There are 10 times more bacteria on, and in, each of us than we have cells in our body.

In fact, if our bodies were completely bacteria free, we would have very little scent at all.

That said, our mouth is no exception. Our mouths are host to an estimated 600 species of bacteria, with about 100 million of the little fellas in each milliliter of saliva.

There are more bacteria in your mouth than people on this planet.

Most of these are harmless and make up our individual “normal flora.”

These bacteria live on every surface in your mouth, not just your teeth.

Your cheeks, gums, tongue and other soft tissues make up 80 per cent of your oral surfaces, so if you think you’re getting rid of all of the bacteria in your mouth when you brush, you’re wrong.

Bad breath, although stemming from bacteria and the by-products they produce, can come via different mechanisms.

Some individuals have more of the bacteria that produce by-product sulphur compounds, causing them to have a “rotten eggs” scent to their breath.

Individuals with oral diseases, such as gum disease, tooth decay or oral ulcers, and those with poor oral hygiene habits can experience a plethora of different scents depending on the offending bugs.

Alternatively, individuals with large tonsils (tonsils have “crypts” that can trap food particles and bacteria) or chronic gastroesophageal reflux can also experience funky breath.

As well, cultural food and spice choices can affect breath significantly.

All of these issues affect children just as much as they do adults.

There are no magic bullets that will solve the breath problem for everyone, despite what you may see on late night infomercials.

The first stop is oral hygiene. With regular brushing in the morning and at night, including daily flossing.

If you want to know if flossing helps, try it and then smell the floss!

If your kids can’t tie their own shoes or write their own name, it’s your job to make sure their mouth gets clean, whether they like it or not.

When you are brushing, don’t forget their gums and tongue. A huge number of bacteria live on these surfaces.

Alcohol-free oral rinses can be helpful as well, with the brand you choose is a matter of personal preference.

Rinses containing essential oils can be quite effective, however, for children it is best to stick with the child friendly versions  and only if they’re old enough to swish and spit (5 to 6 years for age and up).

If these methods are not helping, it’s time to visit your dentist. Your dentist will be able to suggest possible causes, or recommend whether you may benefit from a medical assessment.

Gastroesophageal concerns can be a significant cause of breath abnormalities.

All of the causes previously mentioned affect children, and much of the time the cause is benign.

However, there is a possibility that your child has cavities or other oral health issues that may be contributing to the problem that you are not aware of. I recommend having your child seen by a dentist at one year of age to discuss oral health care issues and prevention, so that it is less likely that you will be caught off guard by tooth decay.

If you wait until they are old enough to cooperate, it may be too late.

Terry Farquhar specializes in pediatric dentistry with the Okanagan Dental Care for Kids.



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