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A tricky conversation

If someone has bad breath, do you tell them and how? – Cassandra in Denton, TX
Aunt Dandelion answers:
This is a delicate subject, since it involves a bodily function of another person. Should you tell? Ask yourself:
  • How well do you know this person? Generally speaking, is not advisable to make any sort of intimate comment to someone whom you do not know well.
  • Is the bad breath chronic? Everyone has bad breath days, or moments – after eating, when first arising, after a long day away from the toothbrush, and so on. If the problem is transitory, be forgiving. If needed, take a subtle step back from the person if you are in conversation.
  • Do you have a stake in this person’s health or personal success? In other words … is it any of your business? Only approach them if the answer is Yes.
Now, if you have established that this is a chronic problem of someone you know very well and it matters to you in some way, how should you tell them?

  • Gently, and politely. Bring it up in a private, relaxed moment. “There is something I have been wanting to tell you, but I was worried about offending you. But I am sure you would want to know and would do the same for me. It’s about your breath. I have noticed that …” (and then describe how often the problem occurs).
  • Never, ever leave an anonymous note or tube of toothpaste for the sufferer to find. Sensitive people could feel crushed by the suggestion that they are offending others, and the anonymous notification may make it worse, leading to paranoia and the fear (probably a well-founded one) that everyone has been criticising them behind their back.
In relationships among peers, Aunt Dandelion also favors the old standby: “Would you like a mint?”

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