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This guest post was written by Jeffery Williams, a tried and true oral health expert who is the purveyor of clean teeth, healthy gums, and super smiles. When he is not researching and writing articles for his website, Oradyne.net, he is out conquering the northern forests of Washington State with his wife Violet. Download his free Oral Health E-book to change the way you care for your teeth and improve your smile for life. Learn more by following Oradyne on Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest.
There is an incredible correlation between smiling and being happy. When we are working at our passion, we smile. When we take a nice walk on a beautiful day, we smile. When we are with someone we love, we smile. In short, we smile when we are happy. But, what if that worked in the opposite direction? What if we could be happy because we are smiling? And what if we could use that to help our children feel happier and calmer?
As it turns out, science tells us we can do just that.
Smiling Makes Us Feel Better
Numerous studies have been conducted to find out how much smiling influences emotion. Researchers conducted one study by having participants hold a pencil in one of three ways in order to slyly get them to make a particular facial expression (without keying them in on the fact that the study was about emotion). One group held the pencil sideways in their mouths to force a smile. A second group stuck the pencil in lengthwise to force a frown. A final group, serving as the control group, just held the pencil in their hands. Subjects were then asked to watch cartoons and rate their funniness. It turns out that the group with the sideways pencils (the “smiling” group) had higher funny ratings than the lengthwise group (the “frowning” group). The control group scored between the other two groups.
Another study involved comparing mental snapshots of women with facial Botox injections, which restrict one’s ability to frown, to women who have not received the injections. The researchers had the subjects fill out an anxiety-depression questionnaire, and they found that the women who were unable to frown as easily reported lower levels of stress, depression, and anxiety than women who could frown.
The common theme here is that smiling seems to boost positive emotions like happiness, peace, and humor. And this is just the physical act of smiling, not smiling in response to some pre-existing positive feeling. By using our smile-related muscles, we trigger something in our brain that ultimately makes us feel better.
Smiling Makes Us Hurt Less
Researchers also found that facial expressions, in addition to boosting positive feeling, can also lessen negative feelings like pain and sadness. In one study, researchers applied an uncomfortable heat to subjects’ forearms who were then asked to make either a relaxed face, an uncomfortable face, or a neutral face. The results showed that those who had a relaxed face experienced less pain than those who had an uncomfortable or neutral face.
Studies concluded that smiling and laughing can reduce stress by lowering cortisol in our blood stream and increasing the release of endorphins. Cortisol is more likely to be released while we frown, so if we smile more we frown less, which means a lowered production of cortisol. As for reducing pain, it seems that smiling releases both endorphins and serotonin that possibly mask experiences of pain or sadness.
Clearly, there is a link between our facial muscles and the emotional centers of our brain. It is theorized that the brain receives something called “facial feedback” from the flexion or relaxation of facial muscles. This means that certain areas of the brain are stimulated when specific muscles in the face move. When we smile, the brain recognizes the combination of muscle flexion as a smile, and it knows that we smile when we are happy. In these instances, the brain may respond by triggering the physiological and emotional processes related to happiness.
Furthermore, laughter appears to have all of the benefits of smiling and then some, including the stimulation of our vital organs and relaxing us. By helping your children understand the important link between smiling and happiness, they will potentially be able to better monitor and control how they feel.
How To Keep Your Kids Smiling
All of this amazing research tells us that we should make sure our children are smiling often! Whether or not they feel happy is not as important as we once thought; it is how they respond to their emotions that makes the difference. If they smile as much as possible, even when it hurts, they are teaching their brains and themselves that they can be happy no matter what life throws at them.
All of this great advice may go to waste if your kids are self-conscious about their smile, so here are some important tips to help give them the best smile possible:
- Brush like their dentist says: Brushing the recommended two times a day helps remove staining and plaque from your teeth, giving them a whiter, shinier smile. Make sure they floss every day with either some dental floss or an oral irrigator.
- Change up their diet: Avoiding excess sugary and acidic foods can protect their tooth enamel from decay. Maintaining a healthy, thick tooth enamel is the key to a white smile, so avoid foods like candy and soda to keep their enamel alive and well.
- Use good toothpaste: Toothpaste rich in fluoride and whitening products should help them keep their teeth clean and pearly.
What are some clever ways you get your children to smile and laugh?