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Chinelo Okoli: How to Tell Someone they have Body or Mouth Odour

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Many of us humans clearly know we cannot stand another person’s body odour. I have seen several complaints by way of blog posts, social media posts complaining about this. Very recently I saw an interesting ad by a popular anti-perspirant brand, on this theme.

But one of the most difficult things I have had to do, is to tell someone else that they have body odour or mouth odour. You may be the most eloquent speaker, but you see this one conversation, it is hard. So how do you approach the subject? If the person with the mouth odour or body odour, is a one-time acquaintance like, a fellow passenger in public transport, co-attendee at a party or conference, I will advise you to endure and leave the issue alone.

This post will apply more to a friend, colleague, family member, boyfriend/girlfriend, employee, etc. with an odour problem.

Have a one-on-one Discussion
It is so easy to back bite about the person’s situation and how it is such a pain. You may even assume the person knows they smell bad, which I doubt…because who wants to stink really? The solution is to talk about the problem with the person and end your suffering.

An alternative is to talk to the person through a medium, usually someone closer to the person. Please don’t have this discussion via email. Try your best to make it face to face, or worst case scenario via phone.

Do it in Private
This is a sensitive subject and should be handled as such. The last thing you want, is to do it before an audience and utterly humiliate the person involved. Imagine being told you smell and others have to hear it as well? Disaster. Make sure you are alone with the person before you start the conversation. This also applies if the person with the body or mouth odour is your employee or domestic staff or even your child (African parents, take note). We all deserve some dignity.

Hit the Nail on the Head
Be sensitive but direct. There is no need dancing around the subject or giving clues like “oh you should try this toothpaste”, “do you care for some chewing gum”, “here, try my perfume”. I tell you, all those things are pointless, because, if the person was good at catching clues, they would probably have figured out they have body odour or mouth odour. You may start the conversation with: “there is something important and personal I would like to talk to you about. Please don’t take this the wrong way as I mean well. For some time, I have noticed you don’t smell as fresh as you ought to. Do you use a deodorant? ” etc. Also, let the person know that you feel it is best to talk to them about it instead of hearing it from somewhere else.

Offer a Solution
The last time I had this sort of conversation with a friend, I found out they do not use a deodorant. Don’t ask me why. I recommended a good deodorant brand, as well as other things he could do to solve this problem. One thing I have learnt is that we come from different backgrounds and that could inform our habits. Do not assume everyone knows they ought to brush their tongue, use a good toothpaste, use deodorant daily, visit a dentist or dermatologist, etc. As a follow-up, you could get them a gift of the item in question, because some people don’t learn.

Expect anything as an outcome
You have no way of knowing how the person will react to being told he or she has body or mouth odour. If they show appreciation, you are in luck. Expect any reaction, from rage, to tears, to getting reported to human resources for bullying, to losing that relationship. The last two are very worst case scenarios. At least you know you have tried your best. Would you rather prefer perfume or air freshener was sprayed when you walked out of a room? Or be told politely to improve the way you smell?

These are practical and tested tips from me on handling this subject. Do you have any other better ways of telling someone they have body or mouth odour?

Photo Credit: Atholpady |

Chinelo Rita Okoli is a freelance writer and content creator. She owns Parenting and Lifestyle blog where she shares her perspective as a Modern Igbo woman living in Nigeria.

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