Tell Someone They Have Bad Breath

added on: January 9, 2012

“How do I tell a co-worker she has bad breath?”

This is a question I am asked from time to time and its sensitive nature is always one where I am truly sympathetic for the person asking. We’ve all been there. And, for those of us who are rather meticulous with our oral hygiene, it’s rather irritating when we encounter others who subject us to this offensive odor. Especially, as you describe, their unpleasant breath is emitted our way on a regular (and seemingly constant) basis. Let’s try to establish, first, if the odor is just ‘basic’ bad breath or a form of periodontal disease. This is important because it will determine how we will be able to approach your cohort.

Is the breath odor ‘stale,’ such as how a mouth may be after sleeping? Without saliva moving through the mouth to prevent oral bacteria from building up, the mouth needs cleaning (brushing, swishing, etc.). Or, does the breath odor have a ‘rotten’ smell, like the person has eaten food hours before and some is still caught between teeth?

If either of these seem to be the problem, poor hygiene is more than likely the source. Set a good example by discussing how great your mouth feels after dental cleanings. Also, take your tooth brush to work and brush after lunch. About once a month, bring up a topic on good oral health. For example, mention that you’ve learned how the bacteria of gum disease is linked to heart disease and diabetes.

However, if the breath odor is ‘different’ than typical bad breath, it may be periodontal (gum) disease. I had one person describe this as an ‘ash’ smell. Another told me it smells dried blood. This didn’t surprise me because gum disease is oral tissue under attack by bacteria. This causes an inflammation, which is the body’s reaction to a bacterial infection. If this is your coworker’s problem, you may have noticed her gums are red in color rather than a healthy pink. She’s likely having problems eating due to sore, swollen gums. If you’ve notice this, you may want to ask if she’s having gum tenderness. If she says yes, you can suggest she call our office for an exam.

If she denies discomfort, your only recourse is to wait it out until she reaches that stage. It’s only a matter of time. Sadly, by then, she may be at the stage where tooth loss is inevitable. Gum disease only worsens without treatment. In the meantime, continue to be a good example to her and take care of your own oral health and well-being.