Our family dentist had chronic halitosis

Tracey Folly

*This is a work of nonfiction based on actual events I experienced firsthand; used with permission.

My lifelong fear of the dentist began when I was still in elementary school. I had a terrible experience with a pediatric dentist, and I begged my mother to allow me to see the same dentist the older members of the family saw.

He was a great dentist, except for one thing. Our family dentist had chronic halitosis. Imagine the worst bad breath you've ever experienced and multiply it by ten—or maybe a hundred.

The dentist didn't wear a face mask or a shield. He didn't wear gloves, but he always washed his hands upon entering and before leaving the room. His hands always smelled like soap, but his breath smelled like Limburger cheese and stale cigarettes, and he always breathed through his mouth.

It was unbearable. I can't explain how difficult it was to hold still while this dentist breathed directly onto my face from the nearest distance possible.

With our noses nearly touching, he'd exhale moistly and malodorously onto my nose and cheeks in the guise of examining my mouth. Sometimes, I'd gag and immediately feel guilty. I didn't want to risk offending him, but I didn't know how much more I could take.

Surely, his breath offended his other patients as well. Why hadn't someone bolder than I asked him about his halitosis? How about his wife? She must have noticed his breath, too. Why not mention it herself and spare his patients the trouble?

I considered asking him about his bad breath, but I could never summon the courage. I was a coward when it came to dental appointments, and I didn't want to make things worse by offending the dentist. So, I suffered in silence and prayed I'd make it through the next twenty minutes without passing out.

The dentist's bad breath was a family joke. My mother and grandmother would tease me about it after my appointments. "Don't worry, dear, it's just the dentist's breath," they'd say. But it wasn't just his breath. It was his presence, his proximity, and the way he always managed to get his mouth so close to my face that I thought he'd engulf my nose with his lips.

I don't know how my mother and grandmother could stand it. Maybe they were used to it. Maybe they had no other choice. I, however, refused to see him again after I turned eighteen and became a legal adult.

This dentist retired a few years ago, and then he passed away. My parents miss him, but I do not.

I haven't been to see a dentist often since then, only when a painful broken tooth forces my hand. I know I need to go for regular appointments, but I just can't make myself do it. The thought of that man's breath still haunts me.

Maybe one day I'll find the courage to see another dentist. But for now, I'm content to live in fear of halitosis.

Do you have a story about a dentist or doctor with bad breath? Share it in the comments below.

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