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Jan 2, 2013

Oral Hygiene

I recently received an email with a story/question, and I wanted to share it with y'all: 

I am a long time reader of your blog. I recently had a dating experience/question that I thought I would pose to you/your readers. I recently went out with a girl and had a lovely first date. While sitting with her though, I noticed a rather odd smell. Thinking it was something to do with the venue we were in, I ignored it. On the second date though, the smell was back. Upon paying a bit of attention, I realized it was her breath. It was a foul earthy like smell. It brought to mind the tale in Jewish folklore of the Talmudic sage who was so poor that he ate dirt, thereby causing his breath to smell.

Once I noticed her breath, I also noticed her teeth. They were covered in plaque and appeared as if they hadn't been brushed in ages. It was quite unappealing. The smell of her breath and appearance of her teeth drove me crazy. We went on a few more dates, but I just could not get past those two "issues". Speaking to her face on would nearly induce gagging. After a few dates we realized we were not compatible and ended things. The experience, however, left me with a question: should I have said something?

This girl was one of the most put together people Ive ever met. She dressed nicely, her life was in order, it made no sense that she would ignore something as important as oral hygiene! I did not think it was my place to say something as it could be highly offensive. However, something like that could serve as a turn-off for any guy she dates and is also simply gross. It undoubtedly bothers / is noticed by her friends and colleagues who simply don't say anything. Aside from that, it could be an indication of a gum disease or some other oral issue. 

As we are no longer dating, my relationship with her is nonexistent. There would e no way for me to say anything. What I wonder is if I should mention it to a friend of hers who can then say something to her? 

Any advice would be welcome,
Yodel Deedle


While it may not seem common, the experience of dating someone who may not cover all the bases when it comes to hygiene can be frustrating -whether it's their teeth/breath, extensive body hair, or some other grooming issue. It brings to mind a date I once had involving a woman with rampant leg hair... at the time I was tempted to offer her my shaver.

First, I'd like to draw attention to something you mentioned. On the first date you ignored it and were able to enjoy her company, despite the smell. However, once you determined the cause, you noticed the details (her teeth, plaque, the particulars of the smell) and provided quite a rich description of how repulsive it became to you. The contrast is important to note, because humans often have a tendency to focus on a particular detail, especially in dating, and allow it to overshadow other aspects of their date's character (for example, you noted that she is very well put together). Whether or not that was the driving force the decision not to continue I certainly don't know, it's just some food for thought.

As far as whether you should have said something, I'd like to acknowledge that pointing out a flaw in someone's self-care/health is a very touchy issue, and takes a lot of courage. Even when approached constructively, it's not an easy thing to do and is not always taken well. That's the case even with close friends/family, and so much more with someone we have practically no relationship with!

However, if this was the singular deal-breaking issue that was unbearable, I would at least have put it on the table, out in the open. Until she is aware of it, there is a small chance it will change; there may have been a simple remedy available if only the concern/frustration were communicated, uncomfortable as it may be to put forth. If you were set up via the grapevine, a friend, or a Shadchan, then you also have the option of broaching the concern indirectly through the third party. This is usually more comfortable for daters, often purported as a plus in Shidduch dating.

Personally, I am a big fan of constructive feedback -if there is anything I could do to improve myself I like to hear about it. For that reason, I support the idea of giving feedback, and if you could still provide constructive feedback through a friend I would encourage you to do so with great sensitivity. Telling someone they have plaque and bad breath can be more hurtful than helpful. If you can also find a way for her to receive feedback anonymously so much the better, since it is often harder to hear from a date (especially if the decision to part ways was initiated by you).

There are more subtle approaches that can be taken too. For example, bringing a pack of mouthwash tabs, mints, breath fresheners, etc. and offering her one when you pull them out for yourself. If you want to really be suave, when you pull them out you can admit that you're sometimes self-conscious about your own breath (Who isn't? I know I am!) and it may put her more at ease (or at least bring some awareness). This may be a short-term fix, but if it frees your mind to enjoy the date, gesundheit!

Unfortunately, I don't think whipping out my shaver in the middle of a date would have been helpful in my case.