How to Treat Bad Breath in Teenagers

Bad breath is a common problem for teens and can be embarrassing in social situations. Treatment starts with understanding, so knowing the causes can help you learn how to treat bad breath in teenagers and prevent it from happening again.

Also known as halitosis, bad breath has many causes. According to the American Dental Association (ADA), they include:

  • Oral disease
  • Food
  • Smoking and tobacco
  • Dry mouth
  • Medical conditions such as sinus infections, bronchitis and diabetes

Practice Good Oral Hygiene

Predictably, most bad breath starts in the mouth, so a very easy way to treat or prevent halitosis is by brushing and flossing. Unfortunately, many teens do not clean their mouths well enough to get all the benefits of these practices. In order to remove the sticky plaque that promotes bacteria and food particles, brushing needs to be done for at least two minutes, twice per day, along with flossing at least once daily. The tongue should be cleaned as well, as it is a common source of mouth odor. The Colgate® 360°® toothbrush makes brushing and cleaning the tongue easy for teens, with a convenient tongue cleaner already on the brush to reach and clean the back of the tongue where most bacteria hide. Keep in mind that mouthwash can help prevent bad breath, but it only eliminates it temporarily.

Dentist Visits for Infections

When teenagers don't take good care of their mouths, infections can occur and cause odor. Bacteria in the mouth can contribute to infections occurring around wisdom teeth when they erupt, or create cavities on existing teeth. The combination of bacteria and hormonal changes can put teens at greater risk for gum infections as well. Only a dentist can determine if an infection exists. Even if proper oral hygiene is being followed daily, a dentist or dental hygienist should be seen regularly (every six months) for checkups and professional cleanings to maintain a healthy mouth. Once the cause of your halitosis is established, recommendations can be made on how to treat bad breath.

Food Choices

Any food can produce odor-causing bacteria, but teens often eat sugary foods, which contribute to the sticky layer of plaque on teeth that lets bacteria build up over time. This can increase their risk for tooth decay, which in turn increases the risk for bad breath. Limit sweets and replace them with crunchy fruits and vegetables to increase saliva and help wash away bacteria and food debris before they cause a problem.

Braces and Retainers

Orthodontic treatments are common for teenagers, and that means brushing can become more difficult. Braces that hinder your teen's ability to brush and floss effectively can cause plaque and odorous foods to fester in hard-to-reach places. Every nook and cranny of braces should be cleaned. Removable retainers should also be cleaned thoroughly each time brushing occurs. Ask your orthodontist to see if there's a technique they know works well.

Stop Smoking

For teens who smoke, cigarettes and other tobacco products are a major contributor of bad breath. Smoking, in addition to being terrible for your health, leaves a distinct, foul odor that everyone recognizes. Tobacco smoke enters the lungs and comes out with each breath, so this odor in particular cannot be fixed by brushing or mouthwash. So kick the habit if you want to help freshen your breath and stay healthy.

Prevent Dry Mouth

Habits such as smoking can also make the mouth dry, allowing bacteria to survive, leading to bad breath. But dry mouth can also be caused by prescription medications, used to treat conditions as mild as the common cold, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests is not uncommon for teenagers who spend time with many other kids all day. Saliva helps clean the mouth by clearing away food particles, and there are numerous products to help drive the production of this necessary moisture. These can come in the form of toothpaste, mouthwash, spray or chewing gum. A dentist or dental hygienist should be consulted about these dry mouth remedies before use.

See a Medical Professional

If your dentist has eliminated dental issues as a potential cause of halitosis, and determined that your mouth is healthy despite a persistent smell, you should see a medical professional. Medical conditions that can cause bad breath include respiratory infections, and inflammation of the sinuses, lungs or throat. Other disorders that may cause halitosis include diabetes, some liver diseases and kidney disease.

Make sure to practice healthy habits to reduce, eliminate or prevent bad breath before it sets in. If the condition persists and you suspect a problem, make sure to see your dentist to determine if you have a more serious dental or medical issue.

About the author: Dianne L. Sefo is a dental hygienist and dental hygiene educator. She has been involved in various publications, has worked in private practices in New York and Southern California and has been a faculty member at Monroe Community College, Concorde Career College – San Diego and New York University.

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