It takes at least ten muscles to smile but as few as six to frown, so maybe the saying should be something like “you burn more calories when you smile than when you frown!” instead. However, getting a better workout isn’t the only benefit we get from smiling!
Obviously, we smile when we’re happy, but evidence shows that the very act of smiling might make us feel happier. Smiling is so closely linked to the feeling of happiness in our brains that even a fake smile can release endorphins — the feel-good hormone — and make us feel better. The next time you’re having a rough day, try flashing a smile and see if that helps a little!
Those endorphins we get from smiling can do a lot of helpful things besides just contributing to a better mood. Short-term, endorphins help to reduce pain and relieve stress because they function in a similar way to painkillers (except without the side effects).
A 2012 experiment tested how long it took subjects’ heart rates to return to normal after completing a stressful task, and the smiling subjects recovered faster. The way the experiment worked was that the non-smiling group had to hold a pencil between their lips while they did the task (forcing a more pout-like expression), while the smiling group had to hold the pencil between their teeth (forcing more of a smile).
Those short-term endorphin effects are great, but it doesn’t even stop there! Over time, when we make a habit of smiling more, the effects compound into long-term health benefits like making us more resilient against illnesses and reducing our risk of getting cancer. The reason for this is that the better we manage our stress, the fewer stress-induced mutations our cells go through over the years.
People typically perceive a smiling face as being more attractive and younger than a non-smiling face, and that’s not just about appearances. Over the course of a lifetime of smiling, we might accrue enough health benefits to actually live longer. One way to make it easier to smile more is to be proud of the way our smiles look because we have healthy teeth and gums. For that, we need great dental health habits and regular professional dental care.
Don’t fight the battle for your smile’s health on your own; the dentist can help. Schedule regular cleaning appointments to get that professional deep clean and catch any problems while they are still small, and bring any questions you have about dental health with you!