‘My boyfriend’s bad breath and black teeth are getting in the way of our sex life’

‘My boyfriend’s bad breath and black teeth are getting in the way of our sex life’


InLalalaletmeexplain's hit column, readers ask for her expert advice on their own love, sex and relationship problems.

With over 200k Instagram followers, Lala is the anonymous voice helping womankind through every bump in the road. An established sex, dating and relationship educator, she’s had her fair share of relationship drama and shares her wisdom on social media to a loyal army of followers. Every week thousands turn to her to answer their questions (no matter how embarrassing), and her funny, frank approach to love and relationships has made her the ultimate feel-good guru.

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Dear Lala,

My boyfriend and I have been together for nine months. The relationship is great, we're like best friends, but recently I can’t stop thinking about his dental hygiene.

When he was a baby he was very ill and it had a knock-on effect on his teeth. He had a lot of dental treatment as a child as a result. When he was 11, he had a traumatic incident at the dentist – he had to be held down while his teeth were pulled out. He hasn’t been to a dentist since. I'm worried that he now has severe gum disease as his teeth bleed, and some are black at the root.

He's refusing to go to the dentist and the topic is not up for conversation. Instead, he tells me he'll go when I learn to drive. But I have no interest in learning to drive; I'm terrified of driving and I don’t want the trouble of owning a car.

I take care of my teeth and I want to be with someone who wants to take care of their health, too. Regular check-ups are important.

My worries about his oral health are now affecting our sex life as I'm so worried about oral sex. I’m frightened that the gum disease could spread to me or affect my fertility. I've read that it could also impact on his fertility but when I've mentioned this he shuts down the conversation quickly. His breath also smells bad.

I’m feeling like I should break up with him. Would that be selfish and unreasonable of me?

Lala says…

There's nothing unreasonable or selfish about wanting your partner to have good oral hygiene. There's also nothing wrong with being selfish when deciding whether to end a relationship. You have to do what’s best for you. But I think it’s important to think about a few things before you decide, especially if the rest of the relationship is healthy.

It sounds like you’ve been honest and communicated your feelings on this, and have been sensitive about backing off when he shuts down the conversation. His bargaining tool of stating that you need to learn to drive first is, quite frankly, ridiculous. He's clutching at straws in an attempt at stalling and turning the responsibility on to you. It’s a bit of a s****y thing to do, however, I don’t think it’s particularly strange behaviour from a man overwhelmed by fear and embarrassment. Do not agree to learning to drive. The two things have nothing to do with each other. He needs to want to do this for himself.

Your boyfriend experienced a trauma that turned into a phobia, and he has never taken steps to address it. Gentle conversation from his girlfriend won't be enough to undo years of fear. He’s probably in pain, and even that’s not enough to push him to overcome it. Instead he's burying his head in the sand regardless of the consequences.

The ideal scenario would be for him to get some therapy. Hypnosis may also work. He needs to address the thing in his brain that’s telling him he cannot go to the dentist without being harmed. He needs to invest in himself and take some responsibility.

I asked Hertfordshire based cosmetic dentist Dr Manisha Pansuria (@dr.manisha.p on Instagram) about the health implications.

Dr Manisha said: “Studies have linked an increased risk of bacterial vaginosis when oral sex is performed by a person with gum disease. There are also papers that show the bacteria causing tooth decay can be spread through saliva, so kissing, sharing utensils etc. This doesn’t mean that you will get gum disease or bacterial vaginosis but there's certainly an increased risk.

“You can protect yourself by maintaining good oral hygiene and seeing your dentist and hygienist regularly. Your boyfriend is clearly petrified, and hearing of his experiences, that's understandable. This is not something that would be allowed to happen now. The consequences of leaving his dental condition to deteriorate are pain, swelling, discomfort, restriction in types of foods that can be consumed and loss of teeth, all of which also have enormous impact socially and on self-confidence.”

I can understand why it feels unreasonable to reject a person because of their own personal bodily choices, but in this case it isn’t. You're well within your rights to insist that your intimate partner maintains an acceptable level of personal hygiene. His reasons for are complex, but that doesn’t negate the fact that things are unpleasant for you. You shouldn’t have to simply put up with it if it hugely turns you off or makes you worried about your own health.

Perhaps seeing how serious you are about it may kickstart his desire to change, but don’t take it personally if it doesn’t. Phobias are not easy to overcome. Offer to support him, maybe find a hypnotherapist locally and see if he's willing, but don’t force it – it's down to him. Set your boundaries and see what happens.


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