How Do You Tell Someone…


……their breath smells like hot garbage?

I have someone I deal with almost on a daily basis whose breath is rank.  It literally smells like she has a piece of limburger cheese right under her tongue.

This person is not one of my closest friends but we are close acquaintances.  Every time we see each other…which is often, we chat.  It would be almost impossible to avoid speaking with her.

Over the last year, her breath has gotten worse and worse.  You can smell it from almost five feet away.

I swear, gaseous green fumes that could singe nose hairs, kill flies and melt a mustache are emulating from her mouth.

She’s married, so I’m assuming her husband has mentioned it?  Maybe?

I feel she would be highly embarrassed if I were to tell her, which is why I have avoided saying anything up until now.

What do I do?  I feel as if I’m about to wilt every time I speak with her and don’t know if I can take another day of it.

If I wear a surgery mask do you think she’d notice?

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86 Comments

  1. Harry 1

    It would be kind to say something diplomatic such as that you have noticed this problem recently. Bad breath is not just a symptom of poor mouth care; it is also an early symptom of some serious stomach problems including cancers. Tell her this and you may save her untold worries. You don’t have to tell her she smells like a drain; be discreet and diplomatic. Tell her a doctor told you this, which is true.

    Reply
  2. Laura 2

    My husband and I have a code…
    “Enjoy a mint, wont you?”
    (Not so discreet though)
    This is a sticky situation- I would definitely take the concerned-about-her-health approach.
    Or, always carry tic-tacs and ALWAYS offer her one. She may catch on.

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  3. HoneyB 3

    I’m so self conscious that I actually have packs of gum everywhere! In the office, in the car, in my purse! Good luck with your acquaintance…a tough decision to make but if you feel that you know her well enough, she may appreciate you telling her. I know I would!

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  4. I once read there is a service that sends annonimous emails to bad breat people saying something like this: Somebody you know thinks your breath stincks” Well ok, I’m sure they write it in a more diplomatic way… Anyway they then give a lot of tips on how to avoid it and why may it happen. I can’t remember where I saw it, but maybe that would be a good option…

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  5. Philly 5

    How do you think so would handle it?
    It might hurt her feelings a bit but she’ll get over it.

    #1

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  6. Lori 6

    I was thinking the same thing some other commenters were – it is probably a health-related issue, to some degree. If it’s getting noticeably worse, SOMETHING is wrong. Maybe if you start by saying how hard it is to talk about this, but you are really concerned about her health. Since your husband is a physician, in some way that probably gives you more credibility. You know how those things work. I had a situation 20 years ago that I was working so hard not to have to see; my sister grabbed me by the shoulders (literally and metaphorically) and made me look at it and while it was terrifying, it was also a relief. Even if your acquaintance doesn’t respond that way in the moment, I’ll bet she comes around to that.

    You seem like the kind of person people count on for truth.

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  7. Marcy 7

    Aye Cathy I tend to agree with Lori. If people actually know you, they know you are trustworthy;)
    Try the mint or tic tac thing , it might work. I’m self concious about my breath too, and I don’t mind if hubby or kiddo tells me breath bad, and if someone other than them told me, I’d thank them, apoplogize and had for the nearest stick of gum ) except wintergreen) BLECH!

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  8. Becky 8

    I agree with the health thing. Still hard to do without offending. Maybe offer her a mint, and suggest that you knew someone with bad breath and they found they had an ailment. Make someone up. See if it gets any response.

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  9. Peebs 9

    I feel for you. I have to attend a morning meeting on Mon, Wed, and Fri, and sit across from 2 people whose teeth are so bad, I can’t tell where the nauseating odor is coming from. It’s enough to make you hurl. What do you say, “Excuse me, but your breath smells like ASS”?
    It’s a problem.

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  10. melissa 10

    Well, you could send her the link to this Blog…..

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  11. Chew gum yourself and breath through your mouth! Or wear peppermint lip gloss until you can figure out a way to tell her.

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  12. Oh this is a hard on! I guess if it was me w/ the bad breath I would want to know so I could fix it! Maybe you could just pull her aside and say it in a kindly way and she would appreciate it!? Good luck!!

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  13. laura 13

    Breath that bad is either an eating disorder or impending death. With cancer, the body starts dying long before it expires and you can smell the death from the inside out. It’s horrible. HORRIBLE.

    That said, I’m not sure exactly how you can tactfully bring either of those topics up with a mere acquaintance! Good luck and keep us posted!

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  14. I’d be concered that it’s a health issue and mention it very kindly. People rarely feel confrontational when something is said with genuine concern!

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  15. Katie 15

    I will be in the minority here but I say: say nothing.
    Like you say doubtless its bad enough that other people who are closer to her are aware of it. They need to be the ones to tell her. I would be mortified enough to have my husband tell me to go brush my teeth but to have an acquaintance do it no matter how delicately would be awful. What if she takes huge offense? You have to deal with her daily, that would become really awkward and uncomfortable. Just my opinion. :)

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  16. I personally wouldn’t say anything. Wouldn’t have any idea where to begin, and I figure it can only be offensive. I can’t imagine that it would turn out favorably.

    I had a principal once (I was a teacher) who had the WORST breath ever. I could barely stand to be around him. He was married too, and I always wondered if his wife noted his bad breath as much as we did!

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  17. They had this same conversation on The View last week. Whoopi says to just privately tell them.

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  18. Teri 18

    I don’t think a mint or tic-tac is going to help with something of this magnitude. They do have those mints that you swallow and they help with your stomach acids. Mints are just a cover. It also may be a bad dental problem. But as for how to tell her??? Yeah, I’m surprised someone from her own family hasn’t said something yet. Does she read your blog?

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  19. Trisha 19

    This is a “sticky wicket” isn’t it? Hubby had a bab breath issue and it was uncomfortable to me to tell HIM! Maybe this woman’s husband doesn’t want to make her mad amd so hasn’t said anything.

    I do agree that it could be health related. I think you should mention it to her but the problem is . . .how. Maybe preface it with something like, this is a difficult thing to bring up because I value our friendship and dont’ want you to be angry with me but, I am concerned about your health because I have noticed that your breath has gotten bad lately.

    Good luck and let us know what happens!

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  20. I am of the privately tell her school. It could be something serious.

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  21. Harmony 21

    I agree to use concern when telling the person privately. It’s a great way to add in those..”you know, I’ve noticed recently” statements that can be so troublesome. I also agree with Lori “You seem like the kind of person people count on for truth.”

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  22. Bunny 22

    Call my mom, she’ll tell her for you. Mom believes that you should tell people things that are embarressing them that they don’t know about. Have something hanging out your nose? Mom will be the first one to tell you, it’s an age thing, old ladies can get away with anything.

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  23. Hmmm…this is a difficult situation, isn’t it? As I was reading your post I thought “This woman must have a medical problem”. And since others posted this as well, I tend to think she has something wrong with her.

    As for saying anything to her about it…I don’t know what to tell you. I would tend to say just let it go, but if you deal with her on a regular basis and it really is a problem, maybe there is a way you can gently tell her how bad her breath is.

    Whatever you decide, I hope it goes well. I know I wouldn’t want to be in your situation.

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  24. I always look at it this way. If it were you, would you want someone to tell you or just let it go.

    I say tell her.

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  25. I have this same problem with my older brother. The worst breathe EVER. I finally went to one of his close friends and asked her if she ever noticed his problem and she said YESS!!!!! She too couldnt figure out why his breathe was so bad.

    Then one day I knocked on his door, he didnt answer so I let myself in to find him and didnt find him inside the house. I found him outside, in his backyard in the furthest corner possible with TWO lit cigarettes. No joking either. This guy pretended to be such the upright and honest human being who hated and abhorred cigarette smokers that no one would have ever guessed he himself smoked.

    So, I found out why his breathe is always so bad. And to this day he lies and carries on his anti smoking campaign. I personally dont smoke, but I dont go around talking crap about people who do.

    Does your friend smoke?

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  26. Tipper 26

    I just hope you tell us what happens-if you tell her.

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  27. Betty 27

    Oh, Harry, you are soooo right I went to school upteen years ago with a girl who had the worst body odor. Not bad breath, But this poor girl has since passed of cancer. People used to leave her terrible notes in her locker & on her books when she would get excuse for a bathroom break. I being dumb & naive,didn’t do anything. I guess I just didn’t know how at that time. Now I think I should have been a better friend & talked to her. Maybe, just maybe it would have helped.

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  28. Shelly 28

    Maybe you could put some vicks vaporub in each nostril.

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  29. I’d ask her if you could say something blunt and you are scared to because it might hurt her feelings.

    She might have a health issue – diabetes or a stomach problem.

    Or be a major garlic/onions eater. Or a smoker.

    Or not be flossing/brushing/scraping her tongue properly in the morning and before bed.

    Maybe she has cavities or a gum issues that she hasn’t addressed.

    I’d say something though because if she DOESN’T know, you might be helping her a lot. She may be embarrassed, but maybe it’ll motivate her to do something about it.

    I dated a guy in his late 50’s once TWICE whose breath was so bad from 6 feet away it could literally knock you over. You notice there was no third date…

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  30. Bad breath is the worst thing in the world to deal with. It makes me want to vomit when I can smell someones BREATH! YUCKA!!!!!!!

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  31. Oh the poor thing! (I just checked my breath, as a reflex!)….

    You know.. she might already have been diagnosed with a serious problem, but has been keeping a secret..

    I think you should chat with her..you did say she is a close friend right?
    You could say, ‘honey, by any chance are you keeping a known health issue from us’? And when she asks why, say, “well, I have to tell you, something is not right, and you might want to visit a dentist, or xxx, or xxx to see if there is something serious going on here, because I am concerned about your health’… and ‘I am here for you if you want someone to go with you’..
    scary stuff.

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  32. Chinya 32

    Hi Cathy…

    Here is the best advice ever…JUST SAY IT. She will be a bit embarrassed at first, but just think of how grateful she will be if it is health related. Think of how grateful she will be that she is being told by someone who respects her. It’s probably harder for you to imagine telling her than it will actually be when you do tell her. Approach her with respect and genuine concern and all will be well. Something like: “person”, I have noticed lately, your breath has really strong odor, and I just wanted to make sure that everything is ok health wise with you…I know that sometimes our breath can be a sign of serious illness such as cancer or even something as simple as a decaying toothe. I’m just concerned is all.” Then follow that up with “did you catch the Bears game last night?” That should do it Cathy!!! :)

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  33. Stacy 33

    Had a similar issue with body odor years ago…very dicey. Please be discreet, but do say something! I would certainly want to know. Sinus problems are also a leading cause of bad breath.

    Best of luck…

    p.s. If ever I meet you and I have said affliction, please offer me a mint, or piece of gum and I will get it!

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  34. Tanya 34

    The quick fix would be to offer her a piece of gum or a mint. This sounds like it could be a health issue though. Just sit down with her and kindly tell her about it. She might be embarrassed at first, even offended, but ultimately she will be thankful. I know if I was her and I had such awful breath, I would be happy if someone told me (after the initial shock of course).

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  35. I have no advice for you. If it were a friend, I would say “go for it”, but an acquaintance…I don’t know.

    Maybe a gift basket filled with mints.

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  36. I wonder if she’s on the Atkins diet. They say it gives you horrible breath due to the ketones. Although most people I know who are on/have tried the Atkins diet are aware of it.

    If she has a physical condition already, she probably knows about the problem. The best thing you can do is offer gum. Gum works better than mints because it causes saliva to come into your mouth and “cleanse” a bit.

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  37. I think you just offer ’em gum. Every day.

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  38. Sarah 38

    I was literally just violated by the foul breath of one of my co-workers. She drinks a lot of coffee and maybe that’s not helping things. She insists on getting right in my face and blowing the stench on me. I try to turn around or drink so water so I can put some space between us. I’m going to start offering her gum every day. I hope that works.

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  39. Ava 39

    I think I might find an article on the web about bad breath as related to health concerns. Print it out and share it with everyone in the office saying you just saw it and found it so interesting. I might even go so far as to ask someone in her presence if they ever noticed your breath being smelly. And of course, always have mints on your desk.

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  40. Tracy 40

    How about an anonymous note sent to her in the mail?I agree that something should be said, but I also know the human tendency to “kill the messenger”.

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  41. Say something … I’d want to know if it were me and I’d respect you even more for saying what needed to be said 😀

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  42. Alisa 42

    That is a hard situation. I know that I’ve been a bad breath culprit because I couldn’t afford dental insurance, but I always tried to chew gum. Maybe you could just carry gum around with you and offer her a piece?

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  43. Sandie 43

    Perhaps she’ll happen upon this post…

    Bad breath can be indicative of many things, including heart disease and infection. If you care about her health, perhaps you should mention it discreetly?

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  44. Loir 44

    I would not say anything. No matter what, it’s going to piss her off. It is up to you though, if you don’t care about pissing her off and hurting her feelings, go for it.
    There are reasons beyond health and tooth-brushing that cause bad breath. One of them is a tonsil stone. It is a little hard packed ball of decaying food with bacteria on it tucked in the back of your throat. It sucks. Most people can’t get them out. They stink. I stick my fingers down my throat (without gagging) to try to clean them out. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Gargling, hacking, coughing…they do and don’t work. It’s a pain in the butt. I realize sometimes I have bad breath. I try to cover it up. I try to take out the stone. I do the best I can. I don’t think a person telling me I have bad breath is going to be very helpful. My husband gets them on occasion too. I tell him to drink lots of water. I’m comfortable telling him, but really, an acquaintance?

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  45. Kris 45

    I think you mean emanating, not emulating. Much easier to mention word usage than bad breath. You could say, “I’m bored, let’s go brush our teeth!” Seriously though, it could be a sign of a serious condition. I can’t believe someone hasn’t told her. Can you ask her if she reads your page?

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  46. Could you slip a travel-sized bottle of scope into her purse? Or a pack of those paper-like breath refreshing tabs? Or, you could pretend to faint as soon as she opens her mouth. On your way to the ground, cover your nose with your hands.

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  47. Awww. I feel this woman’s pain. I too suffer from bad breath, but my dentist ignores it and doctors have blown me off.

    I’m going to go breathe in shame…

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  48. Lara 48

    I think I would assume her husband has already notified her of the problem. I just don’t think there’s any tactful way to say it. Even if you are concerned that bad breath is a sign of cancer, I think telling her so would be akin to telling a fat person you’re concerned that she could get diabetes or high blood pressure or whatever else.

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  49. Tammy 49

    I had to train a girl at work one time that smelled like salami and garlic all the time….even first thing in the morning. And when she talked to you, even if you backed up, she got closer. It was gross….I didn’t know how to tell her but offered her gum and mints and if she didn’t take any, I just didn’t talk to her.

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  50. I’d just nicely offer her a mint or gum every time I see her–and of course hope for her sake that it’s not a medical problem!

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  51. sharon 51

    Firmly offer gum every time you see her? When someone offers me gum out of nowhere I sometimes get nervous that I have stinky breath so I take it! I can’t believe her husband hasn’t noticed. My mom is my dad’s bad breath police!

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  52. Maybe have a box of mints in your pocket and offer her one (as you take one) every time you talk to her? That and very shallow breaths.

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  53. I would politely hand the person some TheraBreath strips!
    Seriously!

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  54. Raina 54

    I would not hurt her feelings period, that is just me though you have to do what you think would be best and whatever the relationship could handle.

    I wonder if we are all complainers in here? It seems all we do in here is complain about one thing or another…hmmm and I am talking about myself as well??

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  55. This is a delicate one, but if you’re friends, she shouldn’t get offended. Present it to her as something you’ve noticed and you’re only meaning to help… in case she doesn’t know. Good luck with that!

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  56. Oh wow! First smelly feet (or was that sweaty feet? Or both?) and now stinky breath! Yikes! Is this like a Rorschat test for bloggers. Ummmm … I vote for casually popping a mint into my mouth and nonchalantely offering one to the gal-friend. I use this one on my husband all the time — he gets it … I hate the smell of coffee breath and he likes coffee (but he likes me more, so he savors minted-coffee breath and I call that a workeable compromise). : )

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  57. nutmeg 57

    How about sniffing a few times near her mouth and saying yuck, what’s that smell? Or do what my five year old does: Excuse me lady at the bank, neighbor, teacher, bus driver, you need to brush your teeth because your breath stinks!

    I recently read that green tea is the best cure for really stinky breath. Could you slip her a few bags?

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  58. heather 58

    it takes a true friend to tell you there’s a booger in your nose – but i rarely have the diplomacy for those situations when i’m not really close to the person. offer her mints? every other minute?

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  59. You have a hard choice. If she is sick and know it you will make her feel worse.
    If she is sick and doesn’t know it then you might help her.
    I woould error on the side of help.

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  60. Egghead 61

    I would want to know even if it embarrassed me. Better to know and be able to do something about it than to walk around and wonder why the plants wilt behind you.

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  61. Shirley 62

    I am sure you can tell her out of concern, Cathy. It will be awkward, but the truth is she probably knows she has this issue. However, she may not know the cause, have no idea how to fix the problem, and have no idea it could be a health concern. If you come across sincerely, I believe she will take it that way.

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  62. Pull a little tin of Altoids out of your purse, and pop one in your mouth. Stretch out your hand, open container resting in your palm.

    “Altoid?” you ask.

    That’s what I’d do… 😉

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  63. Laura 64

    I like the offer her an altoid suggestion. :)

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  64. Rachel 65

    Can you surreptitiously leave mints/gum anywhere that she can reach it?

    I wonder if she has some infected teeth or gums? That can cause foul breath and she might not even know that it’s infected.

    There are few things worse than trying to hold a conversation with someone who is constantly blowing sewage your way. Sorry darlin’.

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  65. I’d send her an anonymous letter, Cathy, saying you aren’t doing this to hurt her feelings, but to try to save her from some potential embarrassment in front of friends and others, who are affected by the vile odor.

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  66. It looks like you have lots of input. I have no idea what I’d do… please keep us posted on your decision :) And – good luck :)

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  67. Aubrey 68

    I also watched The View last week when they were discussing this issue. Even though Whoopi said tell them in private, I still think that would be awkward. But better it come from an acquaintance than someone who may not be so nice about it!

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  68. Natasha 69

    I would take a two fold approach. First, is the health angle that has been mentioned. Just let her know that you are genuinely concerned because you know that digestive health is key to overall immune support, and bad breath is an indicator of a weakness in digestive health.
    Second, wait until you have the opportunity when you get coffee or a garlicky meal and she mentions the breath or asks for a mint and say something like ‘yeah you know I have been meaning to ask you about that…’
    Does she read your blog? Because that may have also just broken the ice :)

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  69. Lex the Mom 70

    OMG! I laughed hard at this! It is & it isn’t funny. I am all about being honest, but I don’t know how I would handle this one.

    Since you are married to the Wild Boar doc (it doesn’t matter what kind), the health approach may just work for you.

    If she were more than just a close acquaintance, then I would go full bore. “Dude, did something die in your mouth?”

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  70. ELRA 71

    Oh dear, I would probably ….. I don’t know! I don’t think I can tell her about it!

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  71. KathyB. 72

    Someone else asked if she reads your blog. Do you think she does? If so, you won’t need to say anything, she can read the comments. Maybe you should refer her to your blog ! Or have your boys speak to her, up close..works like a charm when my grandkids tell me my breath stinks, or they cover their noses. Then I know my cheese and coffee breath needs a cleansing ! KathyB.

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  72. PookandHouse 73

    it’s better that she hear it from you than others.

    My former assistant at work had the same problem after I told her, she took much better oral care and went to see her dentist also. Now, not a problem anymore. And she is now not only a friend but also a sister like to me.

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  73. Karen 74

    Here’s something I did not see in the comments which my son suffers from….tonsil stones. They cause nasty sulfuric smelling breath

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  74. Ask your husband, maybe she has stomach or dental problems. you might take some listerine breath strips our of your purse, take one and then offer one.

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  75. Tami 76

    Give the gift of Altoids – be sure the keep them with you whenever you are around her and always offer them to her – or better yet just give her the tin!

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  76. Shirley 77

    Food for thought … tonsil stones may be connected to gluten sensitivity. I had them most of my life until I went gluten free 5 years ago. I lead a gluten intolerance/celiac support group and several of us who suffered from tonsil stones report the same results after going gluten free.

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  77. Leslie 78

    The big suggery mask..nah..I dont think she would notice. If it were one of my close friends I would sooooooo tell them, only because I would expect the same.

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  78. Margie 79

    Is she diabetic? Halitosis goes with diabetes. Just a thought.

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  79. Melissa 80

    Ack, that sucks. I’ll tell ya. What everyone else said is totally true – it’s highly likely it’s a sign of a bigger problem. I can attest to that, sadly, because I have had experience being that woman due to stomach and digestive problems I had for a few years. Yeeshk. My guess? From having been in her shoes? She might be aware of it, but I’d say if it’s getting worse, then she’s not. And it may need to be pointed out to her so she can get a full checkup.

    I wish this kind of thing weren’t “embarrassing” since it can actually be so serious.

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  80. Syrie 81

    Looks frighteningly good.

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  81. Janette 82

    I don’t know how you do it- but bad breath is a sign of infection. If it is really constant and really bad- that may be a lung problem.

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  82. I have lived in constant paranoia that I might have smelly breath and not know it– to the point that when people moved close to talk, I leaned back– here in England where there is no personal space, I can bend like I’m doing the limbo!
    Another great thing about this place is that people tell you things– if there’s something in the nose, they’ll say, “There’s a bat in the cave”. Can’t be upset by that, can you!

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  83. There is no subtle way around this. Either you tell them straight out, or you deal.

    KInda sucks huh?!

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  84. nana 85

    hey, cathy, here’s the site that sends a “virtual mint” to whoever it is that has a bad breath. it doesn’t show who sent it.

    link to therabreath.com

    Reply
  85. Ana 86

    If I were at your shoes, yes, I will tell it to her right away. It depends on her if she takes it positively as long as my motive is that I truly care for her, as what others said: Open rebuke is better than secret love. If you truly care for that person, why not make a step to inform her about it.

    Reply

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