The power of a smile is undeniable and it is something that is universal. It doesn’t matter if you are an adult, a child, or even an infant, we all smile. A smile can be used to show a vast array of emotions from joy and happiness, to shyness, even to fear or embarrassment. A smile can also be used as a means of communicating and trying to affect situations in our daily lives. Who out there hasn’t smiled a little bigger to get a better deal from a salesperson or to get a doorman to let you into that bar or club by cutting the line?
The first studies on the psychology of a smile were done by Charles Darwin, yes, the same Charles Darwin that studied evolution by natural selection and published “On The Origin of Species” in 1859. In 1872, Darwin's “The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals” presents the first findings regarding smiles in humans. Today, there are a huge number of books, videos, and even classes dedicated to deciphering what a smile actually means. In his book, “Detect Deceit”, Dr. David Craig, an international expert in lie-detection techniques who has researched methods by the FBI, DEA, Scotland Yard, and others, has broken down how law enforcement can detect lies by the way someone smiles. But, what about us, and what does a smile mean to the normal everyday person?
Put simply, smiling makes us feel better. Studies have shown that smiling is proven to release endorphins, the feel-good chemicals in your brain. Smiling will improve your overall happiness, decrease stress, and provide you with many health benefits such as decreasing heart rate and decreasing blood pressure. Based on a 2013 study by the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry, 89% of patients seek Cosmetic Dentistry to improve their physical attractiveness and self-esteem. Tatianna Saracino, who works in finance on Wall Street, and who has been a patient of mine since 2014 says, “The confidence gained by having a beautiful, natural looking smile is unparalleled.” Smiling is often times the first thing that people will notice on you. In one study, done for Phillips, the maker of Sonicare, 47% of respondents said they noticed teeth first when meeting someone. That’s more than the next two categories, eyes, and the way someone smells, put together.
As I always tell my patients, your smile is your business card to the world. Unfortunately, people will judge many things about you only based on your smile. People will judge your intelligence, your cleanliness, your socioeconomic level, and many other things only based on those first few seconds. This is called “The Halo Effect”, and is a cognitive bias in which a person’s overall impression of someone is affected by a physical property, such as a smile. A person with an attractive smile may be seen as more attractive overall, kinder, smarter, more trustworthy, or as a better leader. This is not only important when we consider who we may meet on the street, but more so when we are considering any business dealings we may have. This sentiment is echoed by former model, and current fashion photographer Ken Francis of www.KenFrancisPhoto.com. Ken states, “First impressions are everything in the fashion business. You’re instantly judged. Whether it be on a handshake and quick glance at your watch, the fit and cut of your suit, or most importantly these days, the look and color of your smile.” A study for eHarmony by Tracy & Beall in 2011 showed that men were most attracted to women with broad smiles, demonstrating happiness. Whether it’s in business, romance, or just about any other social situation, having an attractive smile is key to getting ahead.
So, what’s the best way to get an attractive smile? The first thing you must do is speak with an expert, and that expert is your dentist. He or she will be able to guide you in the right direction, with proper information, and will let you know what you can do at home, as well as what you can do in their office. Here are some of the things you can do:
· Get a professional dental cleaning. Having your teeth professionally cleaned by your dentist or hygienist will remove the hard tartar and stains on your teeth that you cannot remove at home. A professional cleaning will also remove the bacteria and toxins from under the gum line that cause swelling, bleeding, and bad breath. It takes more than just brushing and flossing to have healthy gums.
· Use home whitening products such as Colgate Optic White toothpaste or Crest White Strips. These products contain low concentration peroxide agents that will “bleach” away stains. If you get side effects such as sensitive teeth or gums, I would stop and ask your dentist.
· Professional bleaching/tooth whitening. When done professionally by your dentist, bleaching is a very effective way of whitening discolored teeth. You can either use peroxide gels in custom trays (up to 7-10 times stronger than what you would get over the counter) which you would wear anywhere from 15-60 minutes for 7 to 10 days, peroxide gels that are activated by blue LED lights; or the best option, which is peroxide gels activated by lasers which will whiten your teeth in one 30-minute session. Be wary of whitening systems used by places such as tanning or hair salons, as they are not as powerful, but can still cause severe burns to your lips, face, and gums if not applied properly.
· Bonding. This is where your dentist applies tooth colored resin to your teeth in order to either fill cavities, or help close spaces between your teeth. Bonding can last 5-10 years, but will discolor and chip over time.
· Veneers and all ceramic crowns. A “smile makeover”, where your entire smile is changed, is usually accomplished by using veneers or all ceramic crowns. Veneers and all ceramic crowns are thin porcelain shells, usually about .5mm - 1mm thick, about half the thickness of a dime, that either cover the teeth from the front (veneers) or all around (crowns). You can use these restorations to change the color, shape, and size of teeth. When you want that “perfect Hollywood smile” this is what you will be looking for. They are extremely durable, and can last up to 20 years or more. The process to make a veneer or crown can either be done the traditional way in a lab, over a few visits, or as in my office, they can be done same day, without any temporaries or impressions, using the CEREC system in one session. Using the CEREC system is the way I have been doing smile makeovers since 2009.
So, when it comes to smiling, there’s a lot more than meets the eye. Keep your smile healthy and bright by seeing your dentist regularly; And remember that what you say non verbally, and what people “hear”, is greatly dictated by your pearly whites.
Dr. Edward Alvarez is a Cosmetic and Reconstructive Dentist and Certified Acupuncturist in New York City.
Dr. Alvarez serves as a Police Surgeon for the New York State Troopers PBA and Amtrak Police Department FOP.
Dr. Alvarez is a fellow of the World Clinical Laser Institute, a member of the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry, the Academy of General Dentistry, and a member of MENSA.