Why Does My Toddler’s Breath Smell Like Poop?

toddler brushing teeth

If your child’s breath smells like poop, it could be a warning sign that something serious is going on. Normally if toddler breath smells like poop, yes, you have to worry about them actually eating…poop. Yes, kids do do stuff like that!

But if you’re certain that nobody went digging in their diaper and you can totally tell that your child’s breath smells like poop, there are other factors to consider.

If your preschooler or toddler’s breath smells like poop, there could be underlying medical reasons such as gastrointestinal disease, diabetes, or sinus infections. The odor can also be linked to poor dental hygiene or an oral infection. Treatment may be as simple as better oral hygiene, or as severe as requiring a trip to the emergency room.[1]

What Could It Be?

1) Poor Dental Hygiene

Chances are that if your child’s breath smells like poop, the reason is that they don’t have very good dental hygiene habits. Maybe brushing is a constant battle, they don’t let you clean their tongue, or perhaps they’re even snacking frequently throughout the day (which can result in extra plaque buildup in their mouth.)

Symptoms

You’ll probably be able to use your fingernail to scratch of thick amounts of sticky plaque from your toddler’s teeth (especially close to the gumlines.) There may also be a thick, white coating on your child’s tongue. If they have an infection like thrush, there may even be a “cottage cheese” type of residue inside of their cheeks or coating other areas of their mouth.

Treatment

Re-vamp your family oral hygiene plan ASAP. Clean the inside of your child’s mouth at least twice a day with an age-appropriate toothbrush, toothpaste, and a flosser.[2] If they’re willing, try to brush their tongue too. If your child’s breath smells like poop after a couple of weeks of good home care, it’s probably time to go ahead and schedule a dental appointment. Along those lines, be sure to book a checkup with your family or pediatric dentist by the time your child is 1 year old, and your dental team will walk you through an age-appropriate, customized oral hygiene plan.

2) Cavities

Tooth decay is actually a bacterial infection in teeth. If it isn’t treated it will eat its way through the enamel into the pulp of the tooth. It can also spread to adjacent teeth or create abscesses in the roots of infected teeth.

Symptoms

Early phases of tooth decay aren’t visible to the naked eye. They typically start between teeth or in the deep grooves on the chewing surfaces. Once you can see a cavity, the damage is already pretty aggressive. At that point, it may be harboring a serious number of bacteria and necrotic tissues, which can make it so that toddler breath smells like poop.

Treatment

Have your family or pediatric dentist treat your child’s tooth decay immediately. You don’t want it to cause irreversible damage to their permanent smile — or in super rare cases — result in a life-threatening facial infection.

3) Gum Disease

It’s extremely rare for children to have aggressive gum disease (if they do, something serious is going on.) However, gingivitis is the first stage of gum disease and is extremely common in young patients. Especially if they may be hesitant to want their parents to brush their teeth and insist on doing it themselves.

Symptoms

Pediatric gingivitis looks just like adult gingivitis. The edges of the gums are red, puffy, and likely to bleed when you brush your child's teeth. The papilla (pointed gums just between your teeth) may also be swollen and rounded instead of “pointy” like they’re supposed to be.

Treatment

Focus on brushing longer along the gumlines, as well as flossing between your child’s teeth each day. If your child wants to brush their own teeth that’s fine, but only as long as you follow up behind them to clean their teeth again. Once they can tie their own shoes it’s fine to let them take over.

4) Mouth, Nose, Or Throat Infections

Your child’s ears, nose, and throat are all interrelated. When one of them is infected, there’s a good chance that the surrounding glands or tissues may become involved as well. That’s why referred pain like earaches are so common with certain types of dental-related issues (like bruxism or TMJ disorder.) So, if your favorite toddler’s breath smells like poop, don’t rule out something a little bit deeper than their mouth.

Symptoms

Check for enlarged tonsils, strep throat symptoms (like a red, patchy throat), chronic allergies, ear pain, and even swollen, puffy eyes. Infection causes inflammation, so the built-up pressure inside of their nose and throat may also cause headaches. And of course, in this case, your child’s breath smells like poop when they’re breathing in your face.

Treatment

See your pediatrician or a pediatric ENT for an evaluation. If prescribed antibiotics, make sure your child takes the full course of medication and not just enough until their symptoms improve.

5) Diabetes

When your ketone levels are off — something that can happen in chronic, unmanaged diabetes cases — it can lead to a condition called “Ketoacidosis”.

Symptoms

Dry mouth, high blood glucose readings, a fruit-like smelling breath, confusion, thirst, fatigue, nausea, and rapid breathing. Your child’s face may also appear flushed and their skin dry to the touch.

Treatment

Ketoacidosis is a medical emergency and requires the immediate attention of a healthcare provider. Hospitalization may be necessary. If your child has a diagnosed endocrinological disorder such as diabetes, it’s best to go ahead and proceed to your nearest emergency room.[3]

6) Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)

From acid reflux to more severe GI issues like a bowel obstruction, gastrointestinal health can alter the way someone’s breath smells. That’s because bacteria and stomach acids tend to come back up through the throat and into the mouth.[4]

Symptoms

Your child may not be able to tell you that they have heartburn, so watch for symptoms of chronic coughing, difficulty swallowing, sore throat, or nausea.

Untreated GERD or chronic acid reflux can also lead to enamel erosion in teeth (both adult and baby.) Teeth may seem shinier or smoother than normal. Shallow pits can form on the “cusps” (pointed parts) of back teeth.

Treatment

Your pediatrician will likely recommend a modified diet and medication if symptoms persist.

7) Sinus Infections

A “postnasal drip” means there’s mucous drainage from the back of your child’s sinuses running down their throat. It’s usually due to chronic sinusitis, a recent cold, or ongoing allergies. Left untreated, all of these conditions can lead to a sinus infection.[5]

Symptoms

Runny nose, congestion, and bad breath. Headaches and earaches are also common, so you may see your little one grabbing at their ears or face if they’re in pain.

Treatment

Your pediatrician may prescribe an antibiotic or decongestant to clear up mucous buildup. Alternating Motrin and Tylenol can be helpful for pain relief as long as taken as directed.

How to Prevent and Treat Bad Breath at Home

Good oral hygiene is the first and most important thing to keep in mind when you’re dealing with bad breath in a child or toddler. Halitosis is typically caused by oral bacteria. So even if you have a toddler who doesn’t have all of their teeth in yet, you still want to be cleaning their mouth really well each day.

Twice a day, use a toddler-sized toothbrush and a rice-grain amount of fluoride toothpaste to brush your child’s teeth. Make circular motions on each tooth, cleaning the inside, outside, and chewing surfaces. If it’s hard to do so without getting your finger bit, use another toothbrush handle as a make-shift “prop” on the other side of their mouth while they’re biting down. The wider, the better.

Encourage your child to drink plenty of water during the day. Avoid letting them carry a bottle or sippy cup around with milk or juice in it. Not only does the constant exposure to natural sugars feed bacteria, but it also increases their risk of tooth decay.

Try the burst electric toothbrush made for kids!

Overcoming Bad Breath

Even though the chances that a child’s breath smells like poop because of an underlying medical condition are low, you don’t want to rule them out. Especially if your family already has a great oral hygiene routine. But if brushing well every day doesn’t treat toddler breath that smells like poop, you probably need to take your little Munchkin to their pediatrician. Hopefully, it’s just something like a sinus infection, but it’s better to rule out major medical complications than to cross your fingers and hope they go away on their own.