When the subject of children comes up, it usually conjures an image of youthful fun, innocence, and perhaps some broken glass (usually the result of said youthful fun and innocence). However, one thing that generally does not come to mind is the mention of a child having bad breath. But it is something that happens to many kids, and it's not just because they ate something questionable. In fact, if your child has bad breath, the reason may go deeper than you think. It might be the child's adenoids.
Most people are familiar with tonsils. What they aren't so familiar with are adenoids. The adenoids are a small clump of tissue that is located in the back of the nose. Like tonsils, they are important for the production of antibodies. While this is a definite helpful asset in combating viruses, adenoids are not as well equipped to handle today's more prolific infections. In that regard, they are largely more ineffective than effective.
When adenoids become inflamed, they will enlarge in the back of a child's mouth. This is more commonly known as adenoiditis. Due to the blockage of air in the noise, it can lead to more of a reliance on breathing through the mouth. When this happens, an inflammatory response will happen in the nasal area, which can lead to an unpleasant smelling discharge from the infected area. This is otherwise known as halitosis, and can be an embarrassing condition for a child -- especially when hanging out with their friends.
The cause of this bad breath is due to the continual collection and retention of bacteria in the throat. This is the body's way of protecting itself, but the accumulation of foul-smelling bacteria will project bad breath from the mouth. Rinsing and gargling will help eliminate the majority of any negative odors, but in the case of severely inflamed adenoids, it may simply not be enough.
Other signs of inflamed adenoids can be characterized as noisy or even temporarily stopped breathing, snoring, a runny nose, a more nasal tone in speaking, and difficulties in getting a full night's sleep.
Adenoid inflammation can also lead to middle ear infections, which can lead to a whole other source of discomfort by pressing on the Eustachian tube, a tube that connects from the middle ear to the back of the nose. Referred to as "Glue Ear," a sticky, thick fluid collects behind the eardrum that can impair a child's hearing abilities, as well as normal daily interaction with school and with other people. It seems almost an irony that this particular protection against infection can cause its own set of problems that will eventually need to be treated.
Like tonsillitis, if adenoids continue to remain inflamed, they will need medical attention. Based off of such factors as a child's age and health, and the severity and frequency of the symptoms, the doctor can initially treat the condition with antibiotics to reduce the swelling. This works, but should not be relied upon over and over again. In more prolonged cases where the symptoms persist, the adenoids will need to be surgically removed through a process called an adenoidectomy, which removes this tissue from the nose to allow for easier breathing and ease of swallowing.
As this is a minor surgery (the entire process usually takes about half an hour to perform and complete), a child may remain in the hospital for a few hours, the need a few additional days to recover. Recovery time is fairly quick, however, especially for younger children. And they get lots of ice cream (many times, tonsils and adenoids are removed together.)
As the concept of surgery can be a frightening prospect for a child, it is important to reassure them that there may be a little bit of physical discomfort and tenderness after the operation, but will eventually make them feel better overall, and they will still look okay after the procedure with no noticeable physical changes or differences in how they do things.
So, wrapping this up, while kids are known to be hardy and resourceful when it comes to their health, not all conditions go away on their own or through the help of medicines. If a child is complaining about difficulty in breathing, an earache, or their breath has an unusually strong odor, it may be the initial signs of a larger problem at hand. Fortunately, monitoring a situation and acting quickly on providing a solution can go a long way in providing relief. And if all else fails, a minor and fast surgical procedure can permanently remove the problem from even reoccurring, and result in a happier child in the process (while protecting them from infections, bad breath, and teasing from Knuckles, the local bully).
Follow Thomas P. Connelly, D.D.S. on Twitter: www.twitter.com/dr_connelly