The surprising power of your smile


They are one of our most powerful facial expressions and both giving and receiving one feels good. In fact, the act of smiling, which humans do so naturally and instinctively from babyhood onwards, is a gift that science is only just beginning to properly understand.

All smiles are not the same

Not all smiles are the same. There are nervous smiles, deceitful smiles, flirtatious smiles and embarrassed smiles, and then there’s something called the Duchenne smile, named after the French anatomist who first described it.

The Duchenne smile is our most genuine expression of happiness, distinguished by its ability to reach beyond the mouth and cheeks and reach the eyes as well. Don’t worry that you’ll be encouraging wrinkles – they’re evidence of deep and joyful smiling.

And though all smiles serve a purpose, the Duchenne smile in particular confers a host of benefits on both the smiler and the recipient of that broad, gleeful grin.

Smile for happiness

As we all know, a genuine and involuntary smile is a sign of joy and pleasure. The more you smile that way, the happier you’re likely to be.

How do we know? Well, when psychologists from the University of California analysed the college year-book photos of a group of 21-year-old women, and then matched the analysis to data on the women’s lives collected over the next 30 years, they noticed something remarkable. The women who displayed the most Duchenne-like smiles in their college snapshot had greater levels of general well-being, and scored more highly in terms of marital satisfaction, than their more straight-faced peers.

It seems that easy and spontaneous smiling is evidence of real inner happiness. And that happiness is discernible from an impressive distance away. A study by American psychologist Paul Eckman, a pioneer in the study of emotion and facial expressions, found that we can spot each other’s smiles from 300 feet away – that’s about the length of a football pitch!

Smiling makes you happy

You may be thinking that all this is very well but what if you’re not a naturally smiley person? In which case, do you miss out on these amazing benefits? It’s enough to make you frown. But smiling has one added advantage. The act of smiling can, on its own, make you feel better.

A number of studies have confirmed the existence of a ‘feedback loop’ between our expressions and how we feel. In one experiment, subjects were asked to put on different expressions during a stressful task, whether a neutral expression, a standard smile or a full Duchenne smile. When they analysed the results researchers found that subjects who smiled during the task recovered with lower heart rates than those who held neutral expressions, while those sporting Duchenne smiles were the most relaxed of all.

What experts think might be happening is that our brains are taking clues to how we’re feeling from our facial expressions, so as well as our brains telling us to smile, our smiles are telling our brains that we’re happy. It seems the more we smile, the happier we get, and that’s true even if we have to force the smile.

So it seems that your smile really is powerful, whether you smile naturally and spontaneously or have to work at it a little bit. With that in mind, the best advice we can give is to use it as much as you possibly can.

So make sure you look after it! Visit us at your recommended recall intervals and see our hygienist regularly too.

If you feel you need a smile “makeover” speak to us about cosmetic options to improve what you feel is less than perfect. Often solutions can be non-invasive, such as tooth whitening or minimally invasive, such as tooth contouring or orthodontics with invisible aligners. Other solution include porcelain veneers, crowns, bridges and implants.