Dear Doctor NerdLove:
I’m sure if I searched the archives of your column I would find this topic discussed somewhere, but I’m writing to you because I feel like my situation with my boyfriend is somewhat unusual. I’ve been with him for several years, and over the course of our relationship, his breath has gone from occasionally stale to horrible. Like “the funk of 40,000 years” terrible.
I initially approached the problem the way most people do. I didn’t want to hurt his feelings or embarrass him so I would just gently offer him gum or mints from time to time. I then started saying things like, “You know I think you might have some food stuck in your teeth because I smell something a little off. Maybe you should just do a little flossing.” No matter what I said or suggested, he seemed unfazed.
Finally, I just came right out and said it, “I’m sorry. I don’t know if you perhaps have some sort of reflux issue or if you just need a teeth cleaning, but your breath is…. funky.” I suggested he see a dentist. He said he had a bad experience the last time he got his teeth cleaned (over 15 years ago!) and unless he develops pain, he’s not going back. I’ve set up cleaning appointments for him anyway, and of course he blows them off.
His breath has gotten so bad that I cringe when he talks to people because I’m afraid that they smell it too. In fact, my fears were recently realized when he and I had a big argument (about something unrelated to his breath) and when I was seeking the advice of my sister she interjected with the non sequitur, “I’m sorry. I don’t want to be mean, but his breath is terrible. Like I have to hold my breath when he talks to me.” I was mortified.
The issue is now becoming a serious source of tension between me and him. If I ask him to go back and use some mouthwash after he brushes his teeth, he replies with a hostile, “Ugh, you and your sensitivity to smells. Get off my back.” I don’t want to micromanage him or treat him like a child, but unless I resort to rubbing Vicks Vapo-Rub under my nose, I don’t know how to get past this problem. It’s bad and I’m desperate for advice.
Stuck In The Bog of Eternal Stench