If someone offers you a mint, by all means, grab it. There's a tiny chance the gift may not be born of generosity - but rather of urgent need. There certainly is a lot of stinky breath out there, and the laws of interpersonal etiquette don't provide many communication options.
Off the top of my head I can think of at least three people I see on a regular basis who desperately need to be told that their oral vapours are menacing. But in this culture, even a gentle mention of halitosis is experienced as a personal attack. Perhaps it's because the suggestion carries with it the implication of bad personal hygiene.
But very often, this is not the issue. Smells - the creation of toxic compounds like hydrogen sulphide and methyl mercapten - can be caused by unhealthy bacteria linked to systemic malfunctions like gum disease, diabetes, kidney problems or tonsil trouble, including tonsilloliths (lumps of mucous, bacteria and dead cells).
To figure out the source of your dreaded emissions, count on a recon mission to the office of a dentist, doctor or holistic practitioner.
What the experts say
"You don't want to add food on top of toxins if you have bad breath in the morning. You might want to fast for a little while or just have ginger tea. Improper food combining can cause digestive problems and odours. Fresh fruit with anything cooked is a bad combination. Different kinds of proteins together, such as meat, cheese and eggs, are bad. Meat and concentrated carbohydrates such as pasta or bread are bad. Parsley is the herb of choice as a remedy. Or keep cardamom pods in your pockets and chew on them, then spit out the pods. Or chew on cinnamon sticks . Breath mints with sorbitol can cause diarrhea for some. You can mix equal parts powdered ginger, black pepper and cayenne pepper with a bit of honey and eat 1/8 teaspoon before meals. This prevents toxic buildup."
EVA CABACA , holistic nutritionist, teacher, Institute of Holistic Nutrition
"Because halitosis is a sign of improper food metabolism, it is best treated internally rather than simply masked with a mouthwash. Internal treatment depends on the body type of the individual and can include taking an internal cleansing formula such as Triphala or proper food combining - for example, bananas with dairy are a no-no. Eat at the proper time for your body - midday is best for all body types. Eat according to your constitution. For example, avoid dry food if you are prone to constipation. Eat only when you're hungry. Drink cumin-coriander-fennel seed tea or ginger-lime/lemon tea, according to body type. Topical treatment measures include scraping the tongue every day with a tongue cleansing tool (about $7 at a health food store). Use Indian neem toothpaste, or brush with fennel, licorice or cardamom powder ."
ANDREA OLIVERA , Ayurvedic practitioner, Toronto
"Medical problems such as a hiatal hernia or gastro-esophageal reflux disorder (GERD) can cause smells. These, kidney and liver diseases and diabetes all have their own odours. Hunger can cause an odour. [Low-carb] diets like Atkins can create odour because the body burns fuel best when it burns fats and proteins with the aid of carbohydrates. Peridontol bacterial infection can be stress-related. The problem can also be hereditary. There are chemical and herbal rinses , but unfortunately, no two people respond to any one rinse the same way. Sometimes antibiotics are required."
ANNE BOSY , registered dental hygienist, clinical director, Fresh Breath Clinic, Toronto
"Telling someone he or she has bad breath is a delicate matter. I would try an indirect approach. You could leave a cute little mouthwash bottle on the person's desk anonymously. You could grow a little parsley garden so you always have it on hand to offer. You could also ask what kind of toothpaste and mouthwash the person is using and suggest that like perfume, not all types work for everyone."
ADEODATA CZINK , etiquette teacher, The Business of Manners, Toronto