By Dr. Robert Sunstein,
La Jolla & Carmel Valley Orthodontics Specialist
I have a classic chicken or egg scenario for you: Does happiness create smiles or do smiles create happiness? You might think that answer is obvious—that we smile only when we are happy. But did you know that when we smile—even if we fake it—it actually increases our happiness? You see, the muscles we activate when we smile communicate with the brain causing the brain to release dopamine, endorphins and serotonin. These chemicals relax the body, lower the heart rate and blood pressure, and can act as a natural pain reliever and anti-depressant.
The effect of smiles on our well-being was tested in a study published in
"Grin and Bear It: The Influence of Manipulated Positive Facial Expression on the Stress Response
- The researchers used chopsticks to control the facial muscles of 169 participants. The participants’ facial muscles were manipulated into a neutral expression, a fake smile, or a genuine smile. Then, with the chopsticks maintaining their facial expressions, the participants were asked to perform stressful tasks. The participants who smiled showed lower heart rates than those with the neutral expressions, and the participants with the genuine smiles were the most relaxed of all.
Smiling not only affects how your brain reacts; it affects how others’ brains react to you. The orbitofrontal cortex is a region of the brain involved in stimulus-reward value. This region in our brain responds when we see someone we find attractive. A study in the journal
found that this region responds even stronger to an attractive face when that face is smiling.
And the best thing about a smile is that it is actually contagious—thanks to the cingulated cortex. The cingulated cortex is an unconscious automatic response area of the brain, which causes us to mimic what we see. A Swedish study discussed in
found that when participants were shown a picture of a smile but asked to frown, the participants still found themselves imitating what was in front of them—the smile.
The science of the smile has long been a passion of mine. Being fully aware of the positive effect a smile can have the health and happiness of my clients, it’s incredibly rewarding to be able to help my clients achieve a smile that that they are proud of flashing—whether they mean it or not.
For more information on orthodontic care, call us in Carmel Valley at 858-755-1551, in La Jolla at 858-459-3353, or log onto