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Bad breath seems to be inevitable at certain times, and while it is nice to anticipate being in a social setting in order to properly prepare, sometimes it comes without notice.

In my particular case, I will sometimes have individuals get very close to me while carrying on a conversation. Although this is typically awkward enough, it is always much worse when I know that I could possibly have bad breath. When this happens, I get very uncomfortable and tend to do one of the following:

  • Look down when talking. I don't like this approach because I am usually breaking eye contact with the person which could be taken as rude. Also, I am a very tall individual and so I am usually looking down to the person regardless.

  • Take a step back. I feel like this could also be taken as rude and possibly make that person think that they are making me uncomfortable.

  • Just deal with it, but then constantly fear that you will be labeled as that guy.

Usually, these are people that I do not know well enough that I can be honest about the situation, so short of carrying around gum all day everyday, I feel as though the options are limited.

Is there a good social way to deal with this type of situation that avoids appearing rude or distant?

  • 1
    You don't need to accept answers this fast. Wait a day at least, you might get more answers. – NVZ Nov 23 '17 at 3:19
  • @NVZ Thanks, sometimes I get trigger happy with the good answers. Learn by doing I guess.. – T James Nov 23 '17 at 5:07
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Take a step back. I feel like this could also be taken as rude and possibly make that person think that they are making me uncomfortable

While it is true it could possibly be taken as a little rude, it is not so likely or bad; and socially speaking, having particularly pungent breath and engaging in a close conversation is a much worse offence than taking a step back. Based off personal experience I know many people who make an active effort to avoid people who have bad breath because they don't want to be trapped in one of these close up conversations and have to decide between themselves pulling away, or suffering through it. If you are the one to pull away then you will save them this decision and they would be more likely to feel thankful than offended that you are uncomfortable in their presence.

Think about it this way: You have each unwittingly entered a close conversation, you don't want the other to dislike you for your bad breath and they want to escape. However you are both maintaining the close distance out of fear for offending your friend. Classic catch 22. Choose the lesser of two evils and if you want to make sure they don't think you were uncomfortable you could make some comment/joke about the situation to re-assure your friend.

  • Personal experience gives great advice. Exactly the reassurance I need for these types of situations. – T James Nov 23 '17 at 2:41
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Apart from a deliberate admission of possible bad breath, I'm not sure that there really is an interpersonal solution to this problem.

Something like:

Sorry I just ate [insert pungent food item here]

And taking a step back is an option, but it sounds like you've already thought of that.

Your other option, interpersonally speaking, is to stop worrying about it and let the close talkers run the risk, but it doesn't sound like you really want to do that either.

Honestly I would stop worrying about it, and/or carry mints/gum when I know it's important to make a good first impression (First date, job interview, etc.) Most people who you randomly encounter aren't worth so much worry and, like you said, an admission is an option for the people you deal with regularly.

  • I would add after say you ate [food] have a gum or mentos always with you. – Mauricio Arias Olave Nov 23 '17 at 15:45
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As someone with simple chronic halitosis due to mineral saliva (basically, regardless of the purity of the water I drink, my body ensures my saliva has enough minerals in it to be considered hard water), I've dealt with this issue for most of my life. Things I've tried:

  • Pop a breath mint. This is my father's option of choice; he has the same issue. As he is also a talker, he generally makes sure he has at least half a dozen individually wrapped breath mints in his pocket when he leaves the house for the day.

  • Gum. I was a kid, gum usually comes in packages with multiple sticks, so there's fewer items loose in the pocket. Unfortunately, all of the gum I've tried falls into at least one of three categories: it doesn't last long enough, it has an overpowering taste I cannot abide by, and/or it reeks itself.

  • As the OP mentioned, taking a step back. This does require room to do so, and could require an apology for the bad breath to manage with social grace, depending on the person you're talking to. It absolutely requires an apology if they also have bad breath (though your apology doesn't need to mention this.)

  • Apologize for the bad breath, and cover ones mouth, directing the foul odor down. As I'm also tall, I've experimented with directing the foul odor upwards but not only does that look weirder, but it also doesn't work as well. I think bad breath may have a tendency to settle. This can be especially useful in crowded spaces when you can't step back.

  • Don't face the person you're speaking to. This is good for balconies. There's a lovely panoramic view to look at. Depending on the situation and person, it may take apologizing for the issue.

Mostly these days, I try to avoid the situation, with frequent brushing my teeth and flossing and nose breathing - SCH only rears its malodorous head after a few hours of mouth breathing (admittedly, talking is mouth breathing). I have in times past been known to carry a travel toothbrush, toothpaste, and floss with me, so even if I had a meal out somewhere, I could stop in the restroom and take care of stuff. But most of the things I used to eat that would give me bad breath are off my diet these days, so that's a hassle I don't generally do any longer.

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My only way to deal with people with bad breath it is to talk to the person side by side. I mean, if you're in front of a person with bad breath (or you want to spare them your bad breath), try to move to be at his/her side. This can be done, for example, looking at your right and pointing with your hand, in that way both of you will look that way. People might mirror you and talk to that direction, preventing their breath to reach you (and the opposite as well). Conversation can continue normally, with few moments of bad smell.
You can force talk side by side by sitting on two chairs that point to the same direction.

Another alternative is to talk more with your hands, I mean, move your hands a lot, keep their eyes concentrated in your hands, while you turn your body to put yourself side by side to the other person while talking to your hands. In this case, if you fail to make the other person to stay at your side, at least you'll increase the distance, because your hands are in the middle.
Following that approach, putting an object between you and the other person works as well, if you sit in a table, the table will increase the distance between both of your, saving you some space to breath.

Finally, increase the volume of your voice, people will stay a little bit far of you, because they can hear your easily without need to approach.

These alternatives not always work, because there are people that needs to keep eye contact. But they might work in many cases.

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