The Power of a Smile
Dr Radha Sisodia talks to us about the power our smiles hold and what we can do to harness it.
At the ripe old age of 28, and after 18 months of treatment, my smile is straight. My orthodontic (teeth alignment) treatment is complete and my teeth are shiny and celebrating their new found freedom! There is yet to be a photograph I am not ready for. As photographs over the last decade will attest, I rarely smiled in photos with my teeth showing. I promise – I was having the best time, yet only now does my smile reflect this.
Smiling allows us to express happiness and joy. If you are unhappy or embarrassed with your smile, you tend to avoid doing it and, in turn may reduce one’s quality of life. In the ever-growing age of social media, general health and mental health awareness, more and more people are selectively choosing to improve their smile.
When I was younger, I felt relieved and even a little proud of myself that I didn’t qualify as ‘having bad enough teeth’ for braces! What my dentist did not explain to me was that even if you have not needed braces in the past, over time – teeth can move! Over the years, slowly but surely, I noticed my top teeth becoming more and more misaligned. I stopped smiling widely in photos and found myself wishing I had chosen to straighten my teeth when I was younger.
Many times, during my twenties, I came close to starting the journey, however I was forever being told by very lovely family and friends that I had ‘a nice smile’ and it was ‘nice’. Being a ‘cosmetic’ treatment, I had found an excuse ‘to do it later’. Working as a Dentist, I was always improving and creating other people’s smiles, yet holding back on my own. In truth my teeth were not terribly crowded and like most of my new year’s resolutions, it took a while for me to take the step to finally commit to starting treatment. In the end, it wasn’t a milestone birthday or my wedding in the near future that made me go ahead. Eventually, after treating so many patients with Invisalign and seeing through their journeys, I appreciated that fixing your smile is life changing (as discussed later in this article). As much as others thought my smile was ‘lovely’, I did not. I thought to myself I have always wished I had done this earlier – and there is no time earlier than right now!
Even if you have not needed braces in the past, over time – teeth can move
I took the leap and I haven’t looked back since. Actually – that isn’t true. I do look back and think – why did I wait this long to straighten my teeth!
The financial investment, the commitment of my time, the commuting back and forth to my dentist, the occasional tenderness after appointments and being unable to leave the house without floss, in my eyes, was beyond worth it! I am genuinely happier and so much more confident. I love smiling. When the treatment had finished, I remember making my friend re-take a selfie as I had smiled without showing my teeth. Well, that’s just not my style anymore.
Cosmetic vs Well-being
There is a widespread misconception that straightening teeth is purely cosmetic. Speaking from a professional perspective, one could easily argue that over 80% of patients undergoing orthodontic treatments initially attend for an aesthetic solution – or – in other words, to make their smile look better.
Yet, as my professional experience shows, providing orthodontic treatment to my clients is often rooted in much more than aesthetics. It means I‘m able see them regularly for at least twelve months, and sometimes up to 36 months. It is a privilege of the profession to be able to be there throughout the treatment journey. Forming strong interpersonal relationships allows us to be privy to not only a client’s physical change but also an emotional one.
Straighter smiles not only look beautiful, they are also far easier to clean and maintain, and make teeth less susceptible to decay, gum disease, staining and tooth surface wear. A straighter smile is a healthier smile.
However, is it a happier smile? It is usually at the end of the treatment, where not only a beautiful smile is achieved, but something much deeper. Aside from the clear physical benefits straight teeth have on oral health, the positive psychological effect a straighter, brighter smile has is unparalleled.
Smiling induces pleasure
A single smile can create the same level of brain stimulation as up to 2,000 bars of chocolate, British researchers have found, as Ron Gutman, Author of author of Smile:
The Astonishing Powers of a Simple Act, explains in his publication and Ted-Talk. But please don’t try this at home – your dentist will not thank me, nor your MyFitnessPal calorie tracker. Unlike consuming your body weight in chocolate, smiling can help increase endorphins (mood enhancing hormones) and reduce the level of stress enhancing hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol.
The act of physically smiling makes us feel better
We smile when we are happy. Interestingly, whether real or fake even the physical act of smiling alone sends neural feedback to the brain, realising hormones, making us feel better for it. Charles Darwin wrote about this phenomenon in his “Theory of Evolution.”
A single smile can create the same level of brain stimulation as up to 2,000 bars of chocolate
This was further supported by a German study, measuring brain activity before and after the use of Botox (a toxin in the facial muscles) concluding that neural processing of emotional content is modified by facial feedback.
Psychologists, have found that particular sets of facial actions allow us to recognise true smiles. Genuine smiles are those that engage the muscles around your eyes and are called a Duchenne Smile (or more colloquially known as , to the millennial generation and smouldering super models – Smizing – smiling with your eyes). Essentially, we feel better when we smile. So, if you don’t feel like smiling as the saying goes – fake it till you make it! Rest assured those happy hormones are on their way.
Smiling is contagious
Smiling really is contagious. Research at Uppsala University, Sweden showed that it’s harder to frown when looking at someone who smiles. We have all been there – remember sitting in class, or through the most inappropriate social situation in which to laugh, and all you can do is try your hardest not to look your friend in the eye and smile or burst out uncontrollably laughing? Smiling supresses the control we have over our facial muscles. Copy-catting a smile allows us to physically experience it – leading to understanding the emotional state of the person in front of us. Smiling is evolutionary addictive!
Smiling may predict a longer life span
3D ultrasound technology allows us to see that developing babies appear to smile – even inside the womb. We are born smiling and babies, mostly when sleeping, continue to smile. When looking at baseball cards of Major league baseball players, researchers at Wayne State University , US, found that the span of a player’s smile could actually predict the span of his life: those smiling lived an average of 8 years!
More attractive, likeable and calmer
Research shows that smiling, makes you look younger while people who frown look older. As we age, we lose elasticity and fat under our skin, causing a down-turning of the mouth and the appearance of ‘looking sad’. Smiling contracts the muscles of the face, which not only lifts the corners of the mouth but raises the cheek, jowls and neck. Free facelift anyone? One smile coming up.
Smiling also makes you appear more likeable, considerate and even more competent researchers at Penn State University found. Those who smile also do better in job interviews, at work and are more successful in business. In terms of social health, smiling builds stronger and healthier friendships. It signals friendliness and boosts positive interactions. This extends further, as one study, showed that students who smiled had more satisfaction and fulfilment in their future marriages.
A straighter smile is a healthier smile
Some research has also linked smiling to less aggression and physical dominance. As a general rule to be a winner in life show us those pearly whites!
Being happy, content and proud of your smile is imperative to not only physical health, but also to emotional and psychological well being. Improving your smile can be a huge beneficial investment. So next time you consider enhancing your smile or you come in for your check-up – remember – your dentist can be your best friend. We are here to help you become healthier and happier – without the calories of 2,000 bars of chocolate.