How to Tell Someone They Have Bad Breath

Three Methods:Dropping HintsBeing DirectSaying it Anonymously

Telling a friend or acquaintance that they have bad breath can be an awkward and difficult thing to do. It can be difficult to know how to approach the subject without hurting their feelings, but you also want to be honest and help them out. Whether or not they are aware of their problematic odor, there are ways to inoffensively let someone know that they have bad breath.

Method 1
Dropping Hints

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    Pretend that you have bad breath. A classic way to hint at a particular problem is to act as if you have the problem yourself. This is a great way to bring up the topic of bad breath to someone, especially to a person that you are not very close with, because it is a non-confrontational way to make them think about their own breath.[1] Start the conversation by saying:
    • “I’m going to go grab some water, I feel like my breath is terrible.”
    • “Is it just me or does my breath smell?”
    • “Can you smell my breath? I feel like it’s noticeable.”
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    Offer the person a breath aid. Another subtle way at hinting to a person that they have bad breath is to offer the person a mint, stick of gum, or some water (since dry mouth can also cause bad breath[2]) and see if they take the hint. For a natural transition, try taking a mint first and then offering one to them so you’re both included in the transaction.
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    Reiterate that they should try the breath aid if they turn it down. Etiquette experts agree that if you offer someone a breath aid and they turn it down, it’s perfectly acceptable to nudge them into accepting with a kind “I think you should.”[3] It’s a delicate way to let them know that you offered the aid in the first place as a hint. If they still don’t get it, have another friend or coworker try!
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    Exercise good oral hygiene when you’re with them. If the person with offending breath has this problem often, their chronic bad breath may be caused by poor dental hygiene and not just their food choices or use of tobacco products.[4] If it is an infrequent problem, the person just might not have considered bringing a toothbrush for midday cleanings. Either way, try showing them good techniques:
    • After lunch say, “I’m going to go to the restroom quickly and brush my teeth; that dressing had so much garlic in it!”
    • Show them or talk about how you always keep floss and mouthwash in your desk because you cannot stand having bad breath.
    • If you’re close with the person, try saying “Would it be weird if I flossed my teeth right now? I feel like my breath is terrible, and it’s driving me nuts.”

Method 2
Being Direct

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    Consider how close you are to the person. In general, the closer you are to the person, the more direct you should be. If it is a friend or close work acquaintance, this is a great strategy, but if it is a superior or a relative stranger, consider dropping hints first since they are more likely to be offended since the two of you are not very close.[5]
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    Talk in a private setting. No matter how nice you say it, bringing up bad breath to a person will be uncomfortable and could cause embarrassment. To ease the discomfort a bit, be sure to wait to bring it up until you are alone with the person, or ask the person if you can speak with them in private if the problem needs to be solved quickly.
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    Let them know gently. It is very important to understand that there is a difference between being direct and being insensitive. When being direct, it is important to avoid teasing, making any unkind comparisons like “Your breath smells like a sewer,” or having a critical attitude or disgusted body language.[6] Some ideas for considerate, compassionate conversation starters include:
    • “I noticed something, and I’m not sure if you’re aware, but your breath smells a bit off."
    • “Sorry to mention this, but you have some bad breath right now.”
    • “If the situation was reversed I would want someone to tell me, so I thought I’d let you know that you could use a breath mint right now.”
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    Help them fix the problem! After letting them know that their breath is problematic, it is important to then help them solve this problem. That could mean offering them a mint, inviting them to take a walk to a convenient store to get some gum, or talking about your own issues with bad breath.

Method 3
Saying it Anonymously

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    Leave an anonymous note. The least confrontational option, this could also cause the person to wonder about who sent the note in the first place. But as long as you word the note kindly, the point will be made. Just be sure to place the note somewhere where no one else could accidentally come across it, as this will embarrass the person unnecessarily.
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    Secretly drop off a pack of gum or a fresh breath kit. Leaving gum, mints, or a breath freshening kit that includes a toothbrush, mouthwash, and tongue scraper is a great way to anonymously let the person know there is a problem with their breath.[7] Leave it in their locker, desk, car, or somewhere where they can find it in private. You could even make it seem like a gift if you wrapped it up or included a nice card!
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    Send an anonymous email. Bad breath is so common that there are now many sites that allow you to send someone an email about their breath, along with tips for dealing with bad breath, anonymously. This is a great way to not only let the person know, but also to provide them with some information so that they can treat the problem proactively. Try one of these sites or look one up yourself!
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    Recruit someone to do it for you. While not technically “anonymous” since someone would be saying something directly, this can be a great way for you to remain unidentified in the process, which can be ideal if you’re trying to tell your boss or someone you don’t know well. By asking one of their friends or relatives to speak to them about the problem, you can help solve the issue without any of the ordeal.


  • If the person’s bad breath isn’t chronic and isn’t too offensive, consider letting them off the hook and keeping quiet about it since it’s unlikely to happen again.
  • If you know the person well, just telling them they have bad breath directly can be best. If they are just an acquaintance, try one of the more subtle methods.
  • While bad breath is typically caused by poor oral hygiene, food, tobacco products, and dry mouth, keep in mind that it can also be caused by certain medications or mouth, nose, and throat conditions, which could be a sensitive subject for the person to talk about.[8]

Things You'll Need

  • Breath mints (optional, to offer to the person with bad breath)
  • Chewing gum (optional, to offer to the person with bad breath)
  • Fresh breath kit, including a toothbrush, toothpaste, mouthwash, floss, and a tongue scraper (optional, to offer to the person with bad breath or for yourself to show good hygiene practices)

Article Info

Categories: Bad Breath Treatments | Etiquette