I have a delicate situation with a coworker that needs your help. One of my peers, we’ll call her Lindsay, has a terrible dental situation that is both unsightly and offensive. In appearance, her teeth are a mess. Whenever Lindsay speaks, I find myself staring at anything but her face in order to avoid showing my disgust. I also assume she has an underlying medical issue since her breath is terrible, all the time. I do not want to offend her, Lindsay is a great coworker in respect to her work, but I find I can no longer avoid the situation. What is a polite way to suggest that Lindsay seek out a dentist to solve this problem?
Dear Bristling Bicuspid,
I am going to assume that you haven’t watched the Seinfeld television series, or if you have, you missed the episode which touches upon this very issue. In the episode, the Elaine character presents her coworker with breath mints, setting a series of unfortunate events into motion. As a result, Elaine’s boss accuses her of voodoo rattle torture and sneaking into the men’s restroom. Her job is in jeopardy unless she can get her odorous coworker to give up the noisy breath mint tin he has come to rely on. The episode ends with Elaine getting an acquaintance drunk in order to steal her vintage gumball machine.
To make a long story short, no good can come from giving your coworker unsolicited dental recommendations.
You admit this colleague is a peer, meaning you are in absolutely no position to address this issue. You will most likely find yourself talking to human resources if you attempt to do so. Your employer interviewed and hired Lindsay on her work merits and not her looks – which is hugely commendable on their part because so many people struggle with doing so.
The evidence of that statement shows in your writing a letter to me.
As for your avoiding looking at Lindsay’s face so she doesn’t see your disgust, I can assure you that Lindsay is most likely quite aware of your feelings towards her teeth. People who have severe dental issues are usually self-conscious of the problem, which can take years of work to correct, if they are correctable at all. Instead of focusing on how to fix Lindsay, start working on your own flaws – starting with the most glaring one of all.
If you looked your coworker in the eye with respect, you wouldn’t notice her teeth.
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