My mom has halitosis!

My mother's breath stinks but I'm afraid to mention it!

Published January 14, 2009 11:30AM (EST)

Dear Cary,

I have an issue -- an embarrassing issue that I haven't been able to talk to anyone about. And it's not even really my issue, but I can't stop thinking about it and don't know what to do. My mom has halitosis and it's driving me insane. Sounds simple, but really it isn't.

I noticed about a year ago that if I was in the car with my mom the whole car took on a strange smell. The first time, naive to its causes, I even brought it up with her. What is that smell? She didn't know. Several times after that the same thing would happen. I noticed it in the containment of the car, but still was unsure. Finally I realized it was worse when she talked and then I put two and two together: My mom has terrible breath. So now I notice it all the time and I end up being mean or standoffish because I can't believe it and don't know what to do. I don't even want to be around her and I am embarrassed if we run into people or she has any chance for interaction with someone else when we are together. It actually affects the way I look at her and respond to her because I am really grossed out. Then I wonder about my dad and does he know? How about the people she works with? Are they afraid to be near her? The guy she buys her coffee from in the morning? And what about visiting family? I can barely stand it. These are things that go through my head when I am around her and I feel like I need to do something.

She may have some inkling of her breath, but doesn't let on or hasn't seen anyone about it that I am aware of. If I ever pull out gum or a mint, she always takes one. But it doesn't do the job. I am worried and embarrassed for her, and to be quite honest, I am worried for me. But what should I do? Should I just tell her, write a letter? Talk to my dad about it, and maybe he could bring it up with her. My mom and I sometimes have a hard time being critical with one another (I am a perfect only child), and I feel like she might take it the wrong way coming from me. Help!


Dear Bothered,

You, poor woman, may be suffering from Really Uncomfortable Topic Avoidance Syndrome.

Luckily there is a cure: the Frank Conversation About the Obvious™.

The Frank Conversation About the Obvious™ is a deeply spiritual experience. It transforms the base metal of human conversation into the priceless golden essence of wisdom. If we could all learn to identify Really Uncomfortable Topic Avoidance Syndrome and counteract it with the Frank Conversation About the Obvious™, wars and financial crashes would be avoided, dogs would be put outside when they farted, and morons would voluntarily step down from their positions as CEOs.

Also, presidents would be far more amusing on television. For instance, what if President Bush had, early on, just had a Frank Conversation About the Obvious™ with the American people? He might have said, with engaging humility, what we could all see to be true. He might have said, OK, it's obvious what the situation is here, so, um, let me know if I'm screwing up, OK? Just give it to me straight.

But no. He had a fatal resistance to the obvious.

Catastrophe arises from hubris. It explodes upon us with the collusion of the gods, unleashing plagues and terrors that could have been avoided if we had only been attentive to the really obvious things, like the dog just farted, and I'm tired now, and you have bad breath.

So have the Frank Conversation About the Obvious™ with your mother.

But how to begin? This is difficult. We typically delay. Sometimes delaying is not bad. There are people's feelings to consider. There are ways to put it. There are ramifications and sensitivities that may become obvious only upon reflection. We delay but eventually we reach the point where we know what we must say and how to say it. Just yesterday, in fact, after several seeks of reflection, I had a Frank Conversation About the Obvious™ involving the fact of parental mortality. Yeah. Parents get really, really old eventually and then after an uncomfortable interval of more or less intolerable existential dread, terror and grief, we have to go through their stuff and throw out the moldy wallets.

So please, my good friend, have the Frank Conversation About the Obvious™ with your mother. Have it in private, where you will not be overheard. And use props. Go to the drugstore and buy some products that you think may help and show them to her. I just went down to the drugstore to see what they have. It was interesting and amusing. We took a good look at the Dentek Tongue Cleaner. It could do the trick. We also took a good look at Dr. Tichenor's Antiseptic Peppermint Mouthwash. Did you know that stuff is 70 percent alcohol? "Do not use full strength," it says. Dilute it 5-to-1. You could use it to disinfect shrapnel wounds. Or drink it straight and forget all about halitosis.

Anyway, there are many products, and there is the very informative Wikipedia site on halitosis.

So have the Frank Conversation About the Obvious™ and get it over with. Encourage her to look at the broad spectrum of possible causes and implications and take action. Everybody will feel better afterward.

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What? You want more advice?


By Cary Tennis

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