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How To Treat Bad Breath In Teenagers

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Medically Reviewed By Colgate Global Scientific Communications

Being a teenager is hard enough. Add on an embarrassing case of bad breath, and your adolescent might feel like hiding in a corner. Finding the proper treatment starts with understanding what causes bad breath in teenagers. Keep reading to learn what's triggering your teen's stinky breath, so they can stay fresh and feel confident from their first day of high school to prom night and beyond.

Causes of Bad Breath In Teenagers

Chronic bad breath, also known as halitosis, occurs when a person regularly experiences unpleasant odors coming from their mouth. Don't worry! Bad breath is common. A recent meta-analysis from Clinical Oral Investigations found the worldwide prevalence of halitosis to be 31.8% — that's almost 1 in every three people. Still, that doesn't stop your teen from feeling self-conscious or getting teased by other students. Help your child have fresh breath again by identifying the cause of their halitosis and taking steps to treat it. These causes include:

Poor Oral Hygiene

When it comes to bad breath, bacteria are the #1 culprit. These bad-breath-causing bacteria live in your mouth and feast on leftover food and beverages. Then, they leave their smelly waste products behind. If your teenager doesn't establish a proper oral care routine, these stinky bacteria might find a permanent home — and wreak havoc on nearby noses.

Solution: Teach your teenager how to brush their teeth properly. They should be brushing twice a day for two minutes with fluoride toothpaste and a soft toothbrush. While you're at it, show them how to floss, too. If it is difficult to establish a regular flossing habit, they might also try cleaning between teeth with another interdental device like a brush or water flosser.

Gum Disease or Infection

If teenagers do not properly take care of their teeth, those bacteria can hurt more than just their breath. Bacteria also contribute to tooth decay and infections around erupting wisdom teeth. Add in some fluctuating hormones, and these bacteria can put teens at greater risk for gum disease as well. Bad breath is one of the first warning signs of gum disease.

Solution: Take your teenager to visit the dentist regularly — at least twice a year. A dentist can determine if any infection exists or if your teen is at risk for gum disease. Regular checkups allow your child's dental professionals to monitor any trouble areas and help prevent issues like tooth decay, gum disease, and even bad breath.

Food Choices

Your teen's probably not regularly munching on onions and garlic bulbs, but those sugary sodas and starchy snack foods can lead to some seriously offensive breath as well. Remember those bad-breath bacteria? Their favorite foods are sugars and starches, and your teen's diet is keeping them well-fed and extra stinky.

Solution: Make a few dietary swaps to some tooth-healthy foods. You probably won't eliminate all sugar from your teen's diet, but you can help them make smarter choices regarding their oral —and overall — health.

Braces and Retainers

Nothing traps food and bacteria quite like orthodontic devices. Plus, braces and retainers can make it more challenging to clean your teeth, allowing the source of the stink to fester in hard-to-reach places.

Solution: Talk to your child's orthodontist about the best way for your teen to brush and floss their teeth with braces and ask them to point out any trouble areas to watch. You might need to invest in some special tools during this season — like floss threaders or water irrigators — to help keep your teen's teeth healthy.

Dry Mouth

Dry mouth occurs when your mouth does not create enough saliva. Not only can this make it harder to speak and swallow, but it can also give you or your teen bad breath. This happens because your mouth isn't producing enough saliva to help rinse away bad-breath bacteria.

Solution: Dry mouth has many causes — from diabetes to medications and alcohol use. Your teen might try out some lifestyle changes, like drinking more water or limiting caffeine to see if it brings relief. If the problem persists, visit your dentist to help diagnose the problem and find treatment options.

Smoking and Tobacco

That foul odor coming from your teen's mouth might be the result of some new extracurricular activities. The teenage years can be a prime time to experiment with smoking and tobacco use. Not only is this bad for your teen's overall health, but it can have a long-lasting impact on their teeth as well. Because the source of the stench comes from the lungs, no amount of brushing or mouthwash will fix this bad breath.

Solution: The only solution to bad breath from tobacco is to quit! Educate your teen on the lifelong impact of tobacco use, and follow these steps to help your teen quit smoking sooner rather than later.

Medical Conditions

In a majority of cases, halitosis has an oral origin. However, suppose you and your teen have ruled everything else out. In that case, the problem might be another medical condition, such as a sinus infection, gastric reflux, diabetes, or liver or kidney disease.

Solution: Make an appointment with your primary care physician to determine if a medical condition is causing your teen's bad breath.

Treating Your Teenager's Bad Breath

If you're still concerned about the state of your teen's breath — or how it's impacting their physical, mental, or emotional health — don't hesitate to reach out to your dental professional. They can help you find the root of the problem and help your teen find fresh breath and fresh confidence.


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This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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