At Beyond Exceptional Dentistry, our cosmetic dentistry isn’t just about changing teeth, it’s about changing lives. With wearing masks every time we’re in public, we’re wondering if it’s even worth it to smile even though nobody can see it. In times like this, you might even feel like you forget how to smile.

Although it’s probably not possible to forget how to smile, it can certainly feel that way, which can lead to unhappy feelings and even depression.

How to Smile: It Isn’t a Learned Behavior

cute young woman showing off her unique smileOne of the reasons why it isn’t really possible to forget how to smile is that we never learned in the first place. There’re many pieces of evidence to support this theory. There are, for example, images of babies smiling in the womb. Before they’re born, before they even breathe, babies are smiling. This isn’t something they’re taught to do, it’s a natural, innate response.

But maybe what we learn is not the actual mechanism of smiling, but the applications for smiling. We learn how and when to smile in certain situations. While this might be true to some extent, it’s much less than you’d think. An interesting study looked at judo wrestlers in the 2004 Olympics and compared their facial expressions to blind judo wrestlers in the Paralympics. They found that the athletes used the same expressions in the same situations. They even used social smiles–sometimes called insincere smiles–when they lost. This is the exact kind of smiling that we might think was most learned, least innate. But it turns out that smiling is just something we naturally do, not something we learn by watching others. Though we may have different smile styles, we all have a natural tendency to smile if we are able.

Smiling Behind a Mask

One of the downsides of wearing a mask in public is that not only can nobody read your lips when you’re speaking, but they can’t see your facial expressions. For instance, if you say “thank you” or just smile at someone to have a good day, they won’t see it. A lot of people dislike wearing masks for communication because it makes it much more difficult to read people’s expressions. They won’t know if they look sad, happy, or mischievous. 

Psychologist Paul Ekman studies facial expressions and made one good point. A true smile of enjoyment isn’t just seen in the mouth, it causes crow’s feet and laughs lines on the face with eyes that narrow and crinkle. If you’re unable to read someone’s expressions with a mask on, just look at their eyes! People can also hear when someone smiles because it changes the shape of their mouth which raises the pitch of a voice. You can also observe the eyebrows and head tilt to read someone’s expression.

So even if you’re wearing a face mask and you feel like nobody can see you smile, others can still see it in your eyes or hear it in your voice. Keep smiling even with your mask on! Experts recommend taking off your sunglasses if you’re in a social situation so that others can read your expressions better.

Smiling is Magic

Smiling isn’t just a facial expression, it has some magical abilities. According to psychologists, people perceive those that smile as more attractive than those who don’t. In addition, when you smile, people will treat you differently. They believe you’re more sincere, reliable, and relaxed. When you see someone smiling, their smiling face activates your orbitofrontal cortex – the area of your brain that provides you with sensory rewards. In other words, seeing someone smile makes you feel rewarded! If you don’t think smiling matters – consider the fact that it helps other people feel good. Smiling is also contagious. When you smile, it makes others want to smile.

What Does It Mean That You’ve “Forgotten How to Smile”?

So when people say that they’ve forgotten how to smile, what are they talking about? What they’re talking about is the long-term suppression of their smile. Every time they want to smile, they stifle it; often because they are unhappy with the appearance of their smile.

This long-term suppression of the natural smile becomes such a natural instinct that you may even forget you’re doing it. Instead of naturally smiling when something makes you happy, your suppressive frown becomes so rapid that it seems like your natural response. You may even start going out of your way to avoid things that make you smile because you don’t want to deal with the sensation of making yourself frown.

Your Smile Is Always There

One great example of someone feeling like they lost their smile is our patient Peggy Todd, who was so unhappy with her smile that she decided not to smile. This went on for so long, she said, that she forgot how to smile. She literally said, “I have no smile.” Fortunately, you never really forget how to smile. Your smile is always there, waiting for you. 

In fact, this is something that we can see in Peggy Todd’s interview: even as she’s talking about forgetting how to smile, we can see the faint vestiges of her smile wanting to come out. She remembers how to smile, remembers how good it feels, and she very much wants to do it.

And when she got her smile makeover, smiling became the easiest thing in the world. It was an instinct, older than breathing, and almost as essential to a quality life.

If you are unhappy with your smile to the point that you are even convinced that you have no smile, don’t lose hope. You still have a smile, and we can help bring it back to the surface. To learn about your cosmetic dentistry options, please call (843) 706-2999 today for an appointment with a Hilton Head cosmetic dentist at Beyond Exceptional Dentistry.