My Girlfriend Has Really Bad Breath: How Do I Tell Her?

Dear Joan Actually

I’ve been seeing this girl for about 2 months and things have been going well. She’s super fun and the chemistry is there, but she has disgusting breath. She doesn’t smoke or have coffee breath–it’s more like a rotting mildew smell. At first, it was a little gross, but now it’s overpowering. It’s so nasty that I don’t feel like kissing her anymore. I’ve been offering the gum and the mints, you know, like a hint, but it’s not working. She’s been wondering why I’m distant and trying to figure out what’s wrong. What do I do?

Chattanooga, TN

Stinky Breath SMALL blue

According to some statistics, over 40 million Americans suffer from chronic bad breath. Before approaching your girlfriend about her halitosis, it’s a good idea to understand more about the issue. “There are several causes of bad breath,” says Dr. Martha Dawson, D.D.S, “poor brushing and flossing are probably the primary reason, but dry mouth, gum disease, and illness—like a sinus infection or post nasal drip—can also cause some funky breath.” If you’ve been frustrated that the mints and gum aren’t working, you shouldn’t be surprised: “Mints and gum will temporarily cover up the odor,” says Dr. Dawson, “but you really need to get to the source.” Once you take care of the source, the problem should solve itself. “Despite the terrible smell, bad breath is an easy problem to solve,” she says.

Even if the bad breath is easy to fix, bringing it up is not. It’s awkward for all parties involved. So awkward, in fact, that most people would rather let the relationship fizzle than bring it up. Since you’ve made a two-month investment and everything else is working out, I suggest you muster up some courage and have the talk.

Here’s a possible game plan:

  1. Serve up some snacks at home when it’s just the two of you.
  2. After snack time, say, “[insert pet name], I think food is getting caught between your teeth, and it smells kinda weird.”
  3. Suggest a quick tooth brushing session: “Time to brush.”
  4. Afterwards, kiss girlfriend and say, “Ahh, so much better. I love that minty feeling.”
  5. WITH A SMILE, add, “Every once in a while, I think I can tell what you’ve had for lunch. I’ll let you know if it gets a little intense.”
  6. Change subject.

Look at it this way—if you don’t say anything, the relationship will end, so you might as well bring it up. See diagram below for reasoning:


Being honest with your girlfriend will give her the opportunity to correct the problem—and help you avoid a break up. Just like any other difficult conversation, your success depends on your delivery. If you are respectful, easy going, and act like it’s a very minor setback, this situation can be easily corrected.


For all of your issues–dental related or otherwise—we’re here to help. Email JoanActually at Zoosk dot com.