Good Health Starts With a Good Smile

Your smile reveals more than just your teeth. A RUSH expert explains the importance of smiling for good health.
A young woman pointing at her big smile

The most important aspect of facial animation is the smile. Smiles can help you build relationships and boost positivity. People smile in many ways for many reasons. 

These different expressions can communicate many other emotions — and physically affect both you and the person you're smiling at. One study found that stress levels in the body can be reduced faster when you meet someone with a friendly smile. Another study showed certain types of friendly smiles could reduce the stress effects of public speaking. 

While many facial expressions use the mouth and teeth, a real smile (also known as a Duchenne smile) reaches the eyes. This big grin creates crow's feet at the corners of the eyes. People can pick up on the subtle differences between genuine and false Duchenne smiles, but does it matter if your smile is fake, social or genuine?  

One study from Australia showed that muscle activation from any smile stimulates the amygdala (or emotional center of the brain). The amygdala then releases neurotransmitters to boost mental health, thereby reducing anxiety or depression. 

Smiling is powerful, whether you mean it or not.  

Smiling with confidence 

Even if your smile positively affects others, you may not be satisfied with your teeth’s appearance. Smile dissatisfaction is often related to teeth alignment, color and shape. When you aren’t sure of your smile’s aesthetics, it can affect your confidence.

"Whether you're talking to a close friend or listening to someone giving a speech, a confident smile is so important to our ability to communicate," says Soumya Padala, DDS, an orthodontist with RUSH. "But many people hide their smile or refrain from smiling altogether because of misaligned teeth or other oral issues."

The mouth-health connection

In addition to showing how you're feeling emotionally, your smile can also reveal problems with your physical health. You may think of healthy teeth and gums as only a cosmetic preference. But the health of our mouth is vital to the health of the rest of the body.

Plaque formation can occur in just 48 hours. During plaque formation, your teeth and gums get colonized by bacteria, which can cause cavities, tooth loss and inflammation.

And an unhealthy mouth can hurt the rest of your body. A growing body of scientific evidence shows links between oral health and multiple health conditions, including:

  • Heart disease. Bacteria in the mouth can spread to other parts of the body. When this bacteria reaches the heart, it can cause inflammation. Researchers have uncovered oral bacteria in the fatty deposits in the arteries. 
  • Shorter lifespans. Studies have shown the more (healthy) teeth we have at age 70, the longer we are likely to live.
  • Stroke. The most common kind of stroke is caused by a blood clot in the brain. Intracerebral stroke occurs when a blood vessel in the brain bursts. Intracerebral strokes are more deadly than the most common kind of stroke. One study found that people with cavities have a 4.5 times higher risk of intracerebral stroke.
  • Pneumonia. Oral bacteria can enter your lungs, causing pneumonia and other respiratory diseases. 

"The connection between your oral health and your overall health and well-being cannot be ignored,” says Dr. Padala. 

How can orthodontists help? 

"Orthodontists do more than make your smile beautiful," Dr. Padala says. "We improve your health by aligning the teeth and jaw properly. An improved bite also makes tooth cleaning, speaking and chewing easier — especially chewing fibrous, nutrient-dense foods like fruits and vegetables. We can also help you breathe and sleep better by improving your airway. We can also provide appliances that help reduce jaw joint disorder-related symptoms. Above all, a healthy smile can improve your confidence and emotional well-being.” 

To make an appointment with Dr. Padala and the RUSH Orthodontics team, call (312) 563-3000.

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