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Why Do Millions of People Hate Smiling?


I read a study this morning in one of the several dental magazines I subscribe to that had do with smiling. The results were a little surprising and even kind of saddening to me. The study was conducted by an international health care group called Bupa and it involved about 2000 participants. Here are the salient findings of the study to me:

  • 28% of people don’t show their smile when taking pictures for social media. The overwhelming reason given for this is that they think their teeth look unattractive in photographs.
  • 81% of people think their teeth look unattractive.
  • 42% of people said a smile was the first thing they wanted to change about themselves.


Woman hiding her mouth

I have always heard since I was a kid that smiling is one of the most important things that you can do to make friends, get a job, and make a good first impression in basically any social situation you might encounter in life. A healthy smile—It’s important to note that I didn’t say a “perfect” smile—is probably something I’ve taken for granted in my life, but apparently it’s a pretty big concern for a huge chunk of the population. While the percentages of people who have “bad teeth” haven’t really changed over time, insecurity over teeth definitely seems to be on the rise. Why are so many people so insecure about their teeth these days? Bupa attempted to shed light on this question in their study. Based on answers that participants gave about their teeth, most people who disliked their teeth gradually began to feel this way and said that pressure to be attractive has increased over time because of things like social media and altered photographs that depict “perfect” smiles. Seeing images of celebrities everywhere with straight, paper-white teeth (or at least heavily Photoshopped teeth) and playing the comparison game on Facebook and other social media sites has had a profound effect on the way we view ourselves.

In spite of feeling bad about the self-confidence problems the study was elucidating, I had hope about midway through reading the publication that at least these negative emotions might be a catalyst for something positive. If people feel badly about their teeth, maybe that would encourage them to improve their daily hygiene or have more urgency in seeking professional dental care. No such luck for that train of thought, however. Here are some findings from the second half of the study:

  • About half of the people who worried about their teeth said they didn’t know how to brush their teeth properly.
  • 29% of participants said they didn’t use toothpaste regularly.
  • 67% of participants said they never flossed.
  • 20% of participants said they chewed gum so they wouldn’t have to floss.

If this study is to be believed, dental health becomes a downward spiral more often than not. As oral hygiene is neglected it leads to poor appearance, loss of self-confidence, and then further neglect of dental hygiene. As depressing as this sounds, this is exactly what the study suggests is happening in their small group of participants. Are you guilty of having thoughts like this? I hope not, but if so, I know for certain that there is a better way to live your life. Here are a few suggestions that I hope might help keep you out of this bad teeth/loss of confidence cycle.

  • You’re likely being way too hard on yourself. Most people have some minor imperfections in their mouths and chances are good that nobody else notices them. Quit being your own worst judge!
  • Be skeptical of the smiles you see in the media. A lot of money has been pumped into your favorite celebrity’s mouth, or at least a lot of Photoshop time has been spent making it look perfect for that magazine picture. There are also things called “snap-on smiles” that can cover rotten teeth. Celebrities that have had extensive drug problems likely had terrible teeth at one point and they might be still covering them with a “snap-on smile.” Appearances do not reflect reality in today’s media.
  • Floss and brush. Don’t take these things lightly and realize that cheating on them will eventually catch up with you 100% of the time. It’s often the small things in life that add up to be pretty important in the end. Good dental hygiene will save you money, make you more attractive, and, perhaps most importantly, make you feel healthier. Become a prevention-minded person rather than a problem fixer.
  • If you have dental problems, get them treated. Neglected cavities and gum disease only get more severe, more difficult to treat, and more expensive over time. Invest in your health; it’s the best money you can spend.
  • Teach your children to take care of their teeth. I frequently hear the phrase “I got my soft teeth from my mom/dad.” This simply isn’t true. It is more probable that you acquired your parents’ poor dental hygiene habits and got the same result they did.

-Nicolas K. Young

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