Etiquette: How To Tell Someone There’s Food in Their Teeth

updated Jun 4, 2019
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
Post Image
(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

Having food stuck in our teeth and not knowing is one of our worst nightmares. And when the offending bit of dinner is discovered hours later, there’s the inevitable cry of anguish: “Why didn’t anyone TELL me?!”

It’s an awkward and tricky social situation, to be sure. Of course we want to be told if we have food in our teeth, but…it’s embarrassing. And it’s equally embarrassing to be the one to tell. Between friends and family, it’s usually no big deal. But what if you don’t really know the person? Or they’re your boss? Or (gulp) you’re on a date?

Manners expert Helena Echlin from recommends being direct but discrete. Wait a few moments to see if the person catches it themselves, and then quietly draw their attention to the problem.

You can try communicating nonverbally by catching their eye and tapping your teeth (or touching your face to show where the errant piece of food has landed). If that doesn’t work, a brief whispered message does the trick.

We also feel it’s best to pass on the message and then carry on as if nothing happened. Start a conversation with your other dining companions to give the person a few moments to take care of things. Or if it’s just the two of you, look away and then pick up where the conversation left off.

Most of the time, the person will be embarrassed but grateful for your intervention. After a few moments, the awkwardness inevitably fades and the night moves on.

How do you handle this situation?

• Read Helena Echlin’s full article, “Is There Something in My Teeth?”, on

Related: Do You Share Food?

(Image: Flickr member greefus groinks licensed under Creative Commons)