A growing body of scientific evidence in recent years makes it abundantly clear that when people have unhealthy teeth and gums, they are far more likely to experience depression, anxiety, stress, and other debilitating psychological conditions.
Dentists, public health officials, lawmakers, and the public at large already recognize – in increasing numbers – the scientific links between oral health and the health of our organs and anatomical systems. Chronic oral infections have been associated with heart and lung disease, stroke, diabetes, and low birth weights, among other complications.
But the compelling evidence tying oral health to mental health has been much slower to receive widespread recognition. [See the reference section at the bottom of this article.]
Even cosmetic issues, including broken teeth, missing teeth, stained teeth, crooked teeth, and gaps, contribute to mental health problems, including low self-confidence, social anxiety, and feelings of despair.
Roughly three out of every four adults in America experience some degree of dental fear. As a result, tens of millions of men and women avoid seeing a dentist altogether, unless or until the pain or humiliation of poor oral health becomes too great to bear.
DOCS Education was founded in 1999 to address patients with dental fears, providing them a safe, anxiety-free, pain-free way to get the proper dental care. And millions of Americans have availed themselves of the benefits of receiving treatment from a DOCS Education-trained oral health professional.
Ashamed to Smile
But the fact remains that many millions more continue to avoid dental care altogether.
This population group often experiences an unreported, rarely studied, consequence. They are ashamed to smile.
Nature knew what it was doing when it equipped Homo sapiens with the muscles, bone structure, and inclination to put on a happy expression.
Obstetricians tell us babies display so-called "reflex" smiles in utero. By the time newborns are between six weeks and 12 weeks old – many months before they utter "mama" or "dada" – their first real smiles emerge. It’s nature’s way of helping infants immediately connect to those in the world around them.
A warm smile in adults not only brings with it an abundance of good feelings and emotions; smiles have been proven scientifically to be infectious.
Men, women, and especially sadly – children, who don’t smile are not just missing their "Instagram" moment. They are missing out on the many mental health benefits of smiling, as well as the many social interactions that are predicated on the ability to smile at one another.
As dentists, we have a responsibility to remind our patients, prospective patients, peers, and public health officials of the myriad of genuine mental health benefits that result from restoring and maintaining a healthful mouth and hearty smile.
We Believe In Smiles™
That’s the main reason that earlier this year, DOCS Education became the founding global sponsor of the We Believe In Smiles™ (WBIS) campaign, a public service program designed to showcase the importance of oral health and the magic of a healthy smile.
WBIS features a fresh daily photograph of a smiling individual or individuals cutting across all geographies and walks of life. The photos, posted to Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter – along with a positive, uplifting caption – are contributed by prize-winning photographers. In addition, each caption encourages everyone to #ShareYourSmile by posting their own smile photographs, using the hashtag #WeBelieveInSmiles.
We encourage you to follow WBIS on these social networks, and share the magic of a healthy smile with your patients and colleagues:
Multiple Studies Have Found a Correlation Between Displaying Positive Emotions – Including Smiling – and Longevity. In 2009, researchers Ernest L. Abel and Michael L. Kruger, studied 230 images and individuals, scrutinizing the nature and intensity of their smiles. "Most notably, how well they smiled predicted how long they lived," observed Daniel Tomasulo, Ph.D., in reviewing the Abel and Kruger research.
Smiles Lower Blood Pressure, Fight Stress, and Increase Mental Clarity. In separate articles on the benefits of smiling, Athena Staik, Ph.D. and Gerald Schoenewolf, Ph.D. write that among the benefits of smiling are lower blood pressure, increased clarity of mind, and the release of neuropeptides – that fight stress – and the feel-good neurotransmitters dopamine, endorphins, and serotonin.
We Feel Happy Because We Smile. So says Alex Korb, Ph.D., a neuroscientist writing in Psychology Today. "Facial feedback works because the brain senses the flexion of certain facial muscles (like the zygomatic major, which is required to smile) and interprets it as, ‘Oh, I must be happy about something.’ Similarly, if that muscle isn’t flexed than your brain thinks, ‘Oh, I must not be happy."
A Good Way to Make a New Friend is to Smile. A study published in the journal Motivation and Emotion by Belinda Campos, Ph.D., found that people are much more attuned to positive emotions [such as smiling] when forming new bonds than they are to negative ones, such as anger, contempt, or sadness.
Smiles Strengthen Willpower. Research shows that strengthening willpower is the real secret to the kind of self-control that can help you resist temptations and achieve your goals, writes Gleb Tsipursky, Ph.D. His top science-based trick for resisting temptation and improving your mood: Smile.
Smiles Truly Are Contagious. A review in the journal Trends in Cognitive Sciences by social psychologists Paula Niedenthal and Adrienne Wood suggests an instinct for facial mimicry allows us to empathize with and even experience other people’s feelings.
Smiling Increases Good Samaritan Behavior. French researchers Nicolas Gueguen and Marie-Agnes De Gail conducted an experiment using 400 men and 400 women passersby to measure their willingness to lend a hand to a research confederate who "accidentally" dropped his/her computer equipment on the ground. When the passersby first encountered a second confederate who smiled at them, they were 50% more likely to help out.
Smiling Makes You More Attractive. Researchers in Bern, Switzerland found that less attractive but happy faces were judged as equally or even more attractive than good-looking but less-smiling faces for both men and women.
A Sincere Smile Can Help You Land a Job. Recruiter.com advises job seekers to display a genuine smile that will "put you ahead of the pack and give you an edge on the competition, even if the competition has better credentials or more experience."
These are just a sampling of dozens of journal and psychology articles expounding on the many mental health benefits of proper oral hygiene and smiling. The cost to all of us of allowing large segments of our population to pass their days with blank faces, frowns, or pained expressions is incalculable.
The information contained in this, or any case study post in Incisor should never be considered a proper replacement for necessary training and/or education regarding adult oral conscious sedation. Regulations regarding sedation vary by state. This is an educational and informational piece. DOCS Education accepts no liability whatsoever for any damages resulting from any direct or indirect recipient's use of or failure to use any of the information contained herein. DOCS Education would be happy to answer any questions or concerns mailed to us at 106 Lenora Street, Seattle, WA 98121. Please print a copy of this posting and include it with your question or request.