Unusual Breath Odors & What They Mean

Unusual Breath Odors and What They Mean

Unusual breath odors are common in kids. Typically there isn’t anything to worry about, but there are some breath odors that indicate an underlying problem.

In children smelly breath that persists throughout the day is most often the result of mouth-breathing, which dries out the mouth and allows the bacteria to grow. Children who consistently breathe through their mouths might have colds, sinus infections, allergies, or enlarged tonsils or adenoids blocking the nasal passages, so a visit to the pediatrician is in order. Thumbsucking or sucking on a blanket can also dry out the mouth.

Here is a list of some very uncommon, but telltale, odors (mostly from Mace, Goodman, Centerwall, et al: The child with an unusual odor. Clinical Pediatrics 15:57-62, 1976).

Unusual Breath Odors:

  • Acetone (fruity smell) – diabetes or acetone, alcohol, phenol, or salicylate ingestion
  • Ammonia – some types of urinary tract infections, or kidney failure
  • Asparagus – eating asparagus (very unusual in children;>))
  • Bitter almonds – cyanide poisoning
  • Cat’s urine – odor of cats syndrome (beta-methyl-crotonyl-CoA-carboxylase deficiency)
  • Celery – Oasthouse urine disease
  • Dead fish – stale fish syndrome (trimethylamine oxidase deficiency)
  • Fresh-baked bread – typhoid fever
  • Foul – tonsillitis, sinusitis, gingivitis, lung abscess, dental cavities, tonsil stones, or gastroesophageal reflux  (some of these are actually quite common)
  • Garlic – arsenic, phosphorus, organic phosphate insecticides, or thallium poisoning
  • Horse-like (also described as mouse-like or musty) – phenylketonuria
  • Rancid butter – odor of rancid butter syndrome (hypermethionemia and hypertyrosinemia)
  • Raw liver – liver failure
  • Sweaty socks – odor of sweaty feet syndrome (Isovalryl CoA dehydrogenase deficiency)
  • Sweaty socks – odor of sweaty feet syndrome II (Green acyldehydrogenase deficiency)
  • Violets – turpentine poisoning

Three-year-olds often stuff items in their noses, and then forget about them. When my son Kevin was three, he put five peas up his nose before anyone found out! Watch for the combination of smelly breath and a smelly, yellow nasal discharge — especially from one nostril. You and I might not think of stuffing peas up our noses, but three-year-olds think outside the box!

Dr. Alan Greene

Dr. Greene is the founder of DrGreene.com (cited by the AMA as “the pioneer physician Web site”), a practicing pediatrician, father of four, & author of Raising Baby Green & Feeding Baby Green. He appears frequently in the media including such venues as the The New York Times, the TODAY Show, Good Morning America, & the Dr. Oz Show.

  1. Deirdre

    My son’s breath smells like stale garlic. He and his Dad are upset with me because I stated we need find out what is the culprit. In fact, they’re not talking to me now. I told my son it could possibly be entomoeba gingivalis. He has been in college for 2 years and eats the dining hall food. I think there is something wrong and my spouse is upset that I said something about his breath. There has to be a root cause, his breath did not smell this way when he left for college 2 years ago.

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  2. Ruth Frantz

    After 2 months, oral diabetic medications give me a chemical odor. It is so awful, at first I looked around to see what processing chemical I used, and to what I was exposing my pets. They call it a fruity odor but far from it. I feel like a walking Chernobyl. This is my 3rd intolerable medication. Suggestions?

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  3. marsha

    My granddaughter’s breath smells like garlic no matter how many times she brushs her teeth and tongue.

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  4. Caren

    My 8 year old son’s breath smells like burning plastic. When he was a baby his poops smelled the same way. It is really awful. Even after he brushes his teeth and tongue the smell comes back shortly afterwards. This bothers me greatly. It literally smells like someone lit plastic on fire. He is otherwise a healthy kid. Wondering what I am missing.

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  5. Anna

    Hi,
    I Have a 2,5 Years girl that smells like fruit in her head, hair and behind her ears when she sweats. Her breath doesn´t smell like fruit neither her urine. Her diapers are quite normal and she doesn´t drink more water then the normal. She has a twin brother and he drinks more water then her. She acts perfectly normal for her age. What’s happening with her????

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    • Anna

      Anyone…Please….

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  6. Craig

    My breath smells of rubber, it comes and goes but what could be causing this? Please help

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  7. Ihya

    Why does my 2year old baby boy going to 3this coming june is suffering to bad breath it smells like a paste..the one that we used late 90s in a tube with diff.color.even i brush his teeth regulary..is there any problem with his health?because im worried.an advance thank you for those giving me the answer,.

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  8. deanna combs

    My boyfriend’s breath ALWAYS smells like fish..during awake hours & after sleeping…I started thinking he was cheating on me with someone who doesn’t have good hygiene, if you know what I mean..lol..what could this be? He is 46 years old & he does dip tobacco

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    • Ginger

      If it smells like Dead fish – stale fish syndrome (trimethylamine oxidase deficiency)

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  9. Simon

    My 6 year old son is passing wind a lot and it smells of rotten cabbages, and his breath for some time smells like sick ? Any ideas ?? He brushes Twice a day

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    • Mabel

      Sounds like an intolerance to dairy

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  10. Sherry Nixon

    My breath smells like medicine, what could that mean?

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  11. Allison

    Why does my boyfriend’s breath smell like corn? Sweet and sickly.

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  12. andrew cruz

    My breath smells like cat piss, fish, [REDACTED], poop, idk what to do. Seven years suffering. Please help. Cost is not an issue for this cure.

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    • Hi Andrew,

      I’m sure you’ve tried everything that has been suggested, but it would help if you could list them. For instance, have you tried oil pulling?

      Hope we can help.
      @MsGreene

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    • LALAH

      I had an issue like you after seeing several dentists….. I STILL HAD ongoing bad breath then I was treated for tonsil stones …..had my tonsils removed at age40 see an ENT SPECIALIST NO MORE BAD BREATH!!GOOD LUCK!

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  13. Ann

    my breath smells like peanuts and feels like its coming from my stomach

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  14. heather silver

    My daughter has a sweet smell coming from her mouth shes had it before

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  15. lois clsrk

    I am 60 years of age and my breath smells like I eat garlic.what can I do

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  16. Kesha

    My breath smells like raw meat, well that’s the only way I can describe it, but mostly only when I wake up. It’s annoying and worrisome. What could it be?

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    • Eric

      Its quite normal to wake up with bad breath because when you sleep for hours, that’s long enough for your body to get a little dehydrated. When you are dehydrated, you would have less saliva which helps to wash away odor-causing bacteria. In other words, its ok to wake up with smelly breath. Normally, people who are pregnant are most likely to experience bad breath which smells like raw meat.

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  17. martine

    My 12 yr old daughters breath smells like urine. Should i be worried?

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  18. BEVERLY

    my grand daughter breath smells very different ; odd and when she breath though her nose you can smell her breath ! what is the problem ? is that something I should worry about ?

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    • NOTE: I am not a doctor and I am a mom.

      I wonder if you’re smelling this odor when she breathes through her nose if if could be a sinus infection. Probably worth having checked by a doctor.

      Best,
      @MsGreene
      Executive Producer DrGreene.com

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  19. mark

    breath smells like shoe polish……and times can even smell fish…..

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  20. Louise

    i have chronic bad breathe that smells like garlic. I don’t eat garlic at all because of this. What can I do? Breath mints n mouth washes don’t seem to work and neither do gum and mints. I brush me teeth n have good oral hygiene. Please help.

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  21. Jude

    People tell me my breath smells like alcohol, and I don’t drink. It’s embarrassing. Any explanation for this? I am 33years old by the way.

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    • Meredith

      Hi:) I’ve been a Registered Nurse for 13 years and your comment stood out…have you had your blood sugar tested? Diabetics who are in ketoacidosis will have breath that smells like that of an alcoholic. I would definitely see a doctor because your health could be at risk. (not trying to scare you! But I think you should schedule a visit;))

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  22. Hope

    Whenever I chew sugar free gum, my breath and mouth smell like popcorn, and I never eat popcorn. I brushed and used mouthwash. And, still keeps smelling. What should I do???

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    • kiss

      dont chew sugar free gum duh

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  23. Miranda

    My 9 month-old daughter’s spit smells almost vinegary. Her hands and cheeks smells like the spit because she chews on them. Her pacifier, toys, etc. smell like her spit. The dried spit on her face is flaky and white. What is going on? I brush her gums twice a day with baby tooth paste and rubber finger.

    How can I fix this?

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    • ROBERT ARAUZA

      Brushing her gums is good. But if you want excellence you must brush her tounge as well. Bacteria (germs) hide in the tounge I like to think of it as a rug or carpet where all the dust mites are at. As far as her spit ( saliva) it itself does not have a smell (odor) but when it does is when it comes into contact with bacteria. So now she is nearly two I think you can use regular toothpaste on her gums or teeth and tounge especially. Good luck. I hope this helps.

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  24. melissa martin

    What if my 6 year old’s breath always smells like rotted milk?

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    • Beth Beloff

      My 7 year olds breath smelss the same way! Why?

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  25. Daniel

    Hello, please my breath smells and I cannot distinguish what kind of smell, but I know it does smells. I have taken a lot of antibiotics and lots more, but it always comes back. I also do have a dry mouth sometimes, but not often. What does surprise me is that I do have spit in my mouth, but I think it doesn’t neutralizes the odor. I have lost my confidence a long time ago. Just still hoping that there is a cure out there. Well I’m 20.

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    • What have you tried so far? I’m sure you brush regularly. Do you floss? What mouth washes have you tried? Have you tried “oil pulling”?

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  26. Amy

    My son is 10 and has Autism and adhd….for years his breath always smells like corn. I guess there can be much worse things, but is this normal?

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  27. Stan

    When I eat a lot of chocolate my breath smells like foul green beans. I’m a 44yr old male.

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  28. Ed McQuillan

    People tell me my breath smells like alcohol, and I don’t drink. It’s embarrassing. Any explanation what would cause that? Thank you. Ed

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    • Sharron Farmer

      My daughter has that smell too. She is diagnosed prediabetic and I smell that alchohol weird type breath. I am reading up on it and I believe that I should get her to an endo Doc right away as it could mean she is in need of insulin therapy. It may be what is called Ketoacidosis. You may have settled the issue bcause it is almost a year later since your post that is. I hope you get a chance to respond, would love to hear how you are doing if things worked out. If it was something to do with blood sugar levels.
      Hope this helps you or someone else!
      Sharron

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  29. shepherd makopa ncube

    I am a 26 year old male with a bad breathe problem. My bad breath is really takking away my confidence, I use normal toothpaste and mouth washes but the problem persist no matter the mint flavour of toothpaste still in my mouth. My girlfriend always say brush again but still it doesn’t stop. Can there be any speacial medication, or stages I have to follow to terminate this embarrassing sickness.

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  30. Henry

    I am a 25 year old male, I brush twice a day and use smart mouth rinse once or twice a day. My mom noticed I have bad breath, but it is different — it smells like something burnt, smells like gun-powder. Sometimes my urine has strong smell. My mouth tastes funny sometimes, it tastes bitter. What is wrong with me Dr.?

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  31. Joann

    My grandson who is going to be 6 in April just about always has garlic breath. He doesn’t eat garlic, should we be concerned?

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    • Jude

      People tell me my breath smells like garlic, and I don’t eat garlic at all. It’s embarrassing. Any explanation for this? What Could be the cause?

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  32. Cheryl

    We have a 18 month old that has breath that smells like fish. What causes this? Should we be concerned?

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  33. yolanda

    Why does my breath smell like dry blood? I am a 52 yr old female.

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    • BEE

      Your age may indicate menopause symptom. I described it as metallic taste. It’s just one of many annoying menopause symptoms.

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  34. jillian

    My 6 year old daughter has seasonal allergies and no health issues. For the last two years we’ve noticed more often than not that her breath smells sweet like popcorn, yogurt or cotton candy. No food or drink…nor will toothbrushing help. Pediatrician has run blood test and urine test to rule out diabetes…no clue…help!

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  35. dee

    chemical breath like smell 6months
    former smoker.. could be tobacco releasing into cells???

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    • Jennifer

      I had a hard time pin pointing how to describe the smell on my husbands breath. The best I could do was “chemical”; I finally was able to compare it to coca cola. It turned out to be “silent reflux” and was completely gone by taking Nexium daily. If he misses a pill, the smell returns.

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  36. harleyzmomma2004@yahoo.com

    BTW my daughter is 10

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  37. harleyzmomma2004@yahoo.com

    My daughter says everything taste like peanut butter and her breath smells like it. She has stomach pain

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  38. Raven Long

    My 11 yr old breath has a very very strong vinegar smell to it. He can brush his teeth and it goes away for a few minutes, but it comes right back! Help what is this?

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  39. Maria

    I forgot to say i am a 73 yr old female.
    Maria

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  40. Maria

    i awoke this morning with my mouth and nose very close to a pillow and got a good smell of my breath, and it smelled to me like dirty feet! I sleep alone and i noticed that my room smelled the same way! What would cause this? Very concerned!
    Maria

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  41. veronica

    My grandaughters breath smells kinda like garlic really fowl she is only 7 her room smells like her breath in the morning. I am confused.. can you help?

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  42. Daisy Coppedge

    Pizza…. My Breath Tastes And Smells Like Pizza….. I didn’t eat Pizza

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  43. Jessica

    My daughter’s breath smells like rubber. Any suggestions?

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