How Do You Tell Someone They Have Bad Breath?

Here’s a question that everyone raises at some point: “How do you tell someone they have bad breath? ” Should you tell them at all? And how should you handle their reaction if you do tell them?

For all that you can learn in dental hygienist programs, nothing will help when you’re confronted with a tough situation. Whether you’re dealing with a spouse, a boss or co-worker, a friend or a date, there’s no good, comfortable way to deal with this sticky situation.

Most people agree that they would want to be told if their breath was offensive, but when they’re on the other side of the equation, pulling the trigger on that can be a little difficult. If the offending person is close to you, you may be able to take them aside privately and just tell them that their breath is offensive. If they’re in a position to do so, they may go brush and floss their teeth immediately, thereby resolving the problem.

If immediate brushing isn’t an option, try offering them a stick of gum, a breath mint or a breath strip, provided of course, that you have one. If you have regular contact with the offending person, be prepared. Otherwise you may have to put up with the situation as it is.

If the person is an acquaintance that you may not encounter regularly, and they’re not in a position to correct the problem immediately, telling them that their breath is offensive won’t be very helpful. If you have nothing to offer, then be polite but brief and limit your contact with them. Otherwise, help them out by offering up a mint or a stick of gum.

If your child is the offender, there’s never a bad time for a lesson on dental hygiene. Even small children need to practice taking good care of their teeth. Use this time to explain why cleaning their teeth is a good, healthy habit to develop, and encourage them to brush and floss regularly. You can even explain it as a polite thing to do for the people around them.

You may need to monitor their brushing carefully to make sure they’re doing it right, and spending enough time at it. Once they’ve mastered the art of brushing their teeth, show them how to brush their tongue, too. You can also introduce them to non-alcohol based mouthwashes to help them keep their teeth clean and fresh. If they see you doing the same thing, they’ll pick up the habit in no time, and going without brushing will seem a little odd.

If the offender is someone you work with in an office situation, and their breath goes Godzilla after drinking coffee or eating lunch, keep some mints in or on your desk and distribute them generously. If you’re dealing with a habitual offender, you may have to take the person aside and let them know that their breath is unpleasant.

If you have regular contact with the public as part of your job, you may want to keep a candy dish on your desk or within reach. Mints in a dish are an open invitation to take one, and that may help you deal with your more offensive visitors quickly and improve your overall work environment.

Unfortunately, there are times when you’ll just have to grin and bear it. When the offender has no other options to remedy the situation, or when telling someone that their breath is bad could make things decidedly worse for you, (e.g., it’s your boss or your biggest client) it’s better to leave the situation alone and keep your time with the person as short as possible.



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Lee has a college graduate degree in finance. She spends her free time reading and freelancing about everything and anything. She has one child and is owner of two dogs.

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