“Do an act of kindness – help one person smile.”
So reads the catchphrase for World Smile Day, which is celebrated annually on the first Friday of October and will be observed on October 1, 2021. This happy day was created by artist Harvey Ball, the creator of the iconic yellow smiley face image. He believed that we could improve the world one smile at a time.
We have all heard that smiles are contagious, but did you know that there is actual science to backing up this claim? Growing evidence shows that facial mimicry is a natural human instinct. In social situations, we simulate the facial expressions of others to evoke an emotional reaction in ourselves, forcing us to empathize with others and form an appropriate social response. For example, if our friend is looking sad, we may also put on a sad face without even realizing it. This practice helps us understand how others are feeling and allows us to actually take on the same feeling. This doesn’t only work when others are sad – a smile can have the same effect.
Did you know that we smile less as we age? Research suggests that children smile about 400 times a day. Happy adults smile 40 to 50 times a day, while the typical adult smiles less than 20 times a day. A hearty smile not only looks good, but it also has many health benefits.
For example, smiling releases cortisol and endorphins. Endorphins are neurochemicals in your body; They reduce pain, relieve stress, and promote an overall sense of well-being. Cortisol is a hormone that works with certain parts of your brain that controls your mood, motivation, and fear. Cortisol regulates how your body metabolizes macronutrients, it keeps inflammation down, regulates blood pressure, controls your sleep/wake cycle, and boosts energy so you can handle stress, restoring our bodily balance. Smiling has benefits like reducing stress and pain, increasing endurance, improving the immune system, and bolstering your mood. Smiles literally change our chemical makeup!
A healthy smile has many benefits, and poor oral health can lead to serious health problems. Cavities and gum disease can make it difficult to smile or eat properly. Chronic poor oral health can lead to gum disease, like periodontitis, which can contribute to bone loss, permanently damaging the bone that supports your teeth. This can cause your teeth to become loose, fall out, or require them to be removed. Some research suggests that bacteria from gum disease can travel to your heart and cause heart failure, blood clots, and even stroke. Gum diseases can even cause premature birth and low birthweight among pregnant women. Diabetes impairs the immune system and can make infection more likely to occur, which can have an adverse effect on blood sugar.
Maintaining good oral health is so important to our overall well-being, especially as we age or manage other chronic conditions. The good news is that many of the problems associated with poor oral health are preventable! Brush after every meal, see your dentist at least once a year (every six months is best), and don’t forget to floss. Other things we can do include maintaining a healthy diet with low sugar intake; if you drink alcohol, do so in moderation; and avoid any type of tobacco use that isn’t for spiritual or cultural purposes.
At Colorado Access, we work to ensure our members are receiving dental care at least once a year. We do this through two programs; Cavity Free at Three and the Early, Periodic, Screening, Diagnostic and Treatment (EPSDT) Dental Reminder program.
Seeing a dentist regularly is important for everyone and so is at-home oral health habits. Since our everyday behaviors play such an important role in determining our physical condition, we also promote oral health through other digital engagement programs to encourage members to care for their teeth and oral health on a daily basis. Oral health messaging is included in current programs like Healthy Mom Healthy Baby, ASPIRE, and Text4Kids (child wellness), as well as upcoming programs like Text4Health (adult wellness) and Care4Life (diabetes management).
We only get one smile, and teeth are meant to last a lifetime. With routine visits to the dentist and good oral health habits, we can keep a healthy smile that can infect those around us. How many times are you smiling a day? Do you want to smile more? Here’s a challenge for you: The next time you find yourself near someone that isn’t wearing their own smile, whether you’re in an elevator, at the grocery store, holding a door open, etc., stop and smile at them. Perhaps this one act of smiling kindness will be enough to get them to smile back. Smiles are contagious, after all.