May was National Mental Health Awareness Month and the team at Dental Studio is committed to each and every patient and their overall well-being. As dentists, there is no doubt that we love big, healthy, beautiful smiles! In our office, we know how amazing a smile can be and what just one smile can do – so we thought it was time we shared that information with the world.
The Science of a Smile
We never really stop to think about the scientific mechanisms that allow us to smile. We may remember from high school science class that it takes between 10 to 12 different muscles working together to create a smile, but there is a whole lot more going on behind the scenes!
When we feel happiness or experience joy, an incredible thing happens in our brains. Say, for example, you run into an old, dear friend. Your brain immediately recalls these joyful feelings from our memories, releases endorphins, and sends neuro-signals to our facial muscles (all 10-12 of them) to trigger a smile. It doesn’t stop there, however, once this initial ‘happiness firing squad’ is engaged, it creates a happy feedback loop. The smile that was triggered by the brain sends yet more signals back up to the brain reinforcing the feelings of joy – and the endorphins just keep coming!
Smiling and Mental Health
Once we begin smiling, our body is instantly flooded with neuropeptides full of dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins. But, why does that matter for our overall mental health? Endorphins act as a mild pain-reliever, dopamine creates feelings of pleasure, and serotonin works as an anti-depressant. It’s like our brains become our own personal pharmacy for happiness pills from just a smile!
More Contagious Than the Flu
Whether your smile is real or not (some studies suggest that fake smiles can trigger the same mental health benefits as a real one), the fact is that a smile is highly contagious. In fact, if you smile at a stranger in a store, there is greater than a 90% chance that the person will reciprocate the smile. Imagine, two strangers in a store triggering all of the incredible things we mentioned above – talk about happiness overload!
A Real, Serious Issue
Mental health is a serious issue in our nation, in fact, studies suggest that it is an epidemic. Before the worldwide pandemic hit in 2020, 2-3 out of every 5 people reported that they felt depressed, anxious, and/or suicidal. Today, that number has climbed to 4-5 people out of 5! While we encourage you to find things that make you smile – to induce all of the wonderful benefits we listed – we also recognize that sometimes you may need more support.
If you or someone you love is suffering from mental health issues, please contact a healthcare professional. Or call the National Suicide Hotline.