The Duchenne Smile

I recently came across an article that I found on by Kevin Huff titled The Duchenne Smile and What It Means To You.  I thought it accurately describes why we, as dentists, enjoy helping individuals fix their smile and some of the pitfalls of compromised dentition.  Find the article below:

“What sunshine is to flowers, smiles are to humanity. These are but trifles, to be sure; but scattered along life’s pathway, the good they do is inconceivable.” – Joseph Addison

Did you know?

  • Smiles are the most common form of non-verbal communication.
  • Smiles reflect happiness and security across cultures. They are a true universal language that consistently are interpreted accurately despite verbal language barriers.
  • Smiling stimulates the brain’s positive feedback system. In fact, a study funded by Hewlett-Packard done approximately 12 years ago found that one smile stimulates the brain’s mood lifters as much as children eating 2,000 chocolate bars or receiving a $20,000 gift. Many of the cohorts in the study reported that a heartfelt smile actually gave them a higher short-term high than even having sexual relations!1
  • Smiling improves overall health by releasing Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor, a stress-managing hormone, and subsequently endorphins, much like exercise. When we smile, whether we force a smile or not, we cannot help but to feel better – even euphoric.2
  • Full, natural smiles reflect trustworthiness in interviews and improve chances of being hired, while guarded, protected smiles create concerns for employers.3
  • Full, natural smiles reflect competence, courteousness and likeability.4

As far as understanding the muscles of facial expression that form the smile, we first must understand that there are two types of smiles that have been identified. The heartfelt, genuine smile that we see (for example, when most people encounter a newborn baby) is called a Duchenne smile.  This smile, known as a “genuine” smile, involves the following facial muscles:

  • Zygomaticus major: pulls up the corners of the mouth
  • Zygomaticus minor: assists in the vertical elevation of the lip
  • Obicularis oris: relaxes to allow the zygomaticus muscles to function
  • Obicularis oris: contracts to elevate enable the Zygomaticus minor to function.

The other smile, which we often see when someone is questioning something or is nervous or dubious, involves only the Zygomaticus major. This action results in a forced upward pull to the lip, and minimal movement of the orbit of the eye. The Duchenne, or “genuine” smile, tends to be perceived as confident, trustworthy, and sincere and tends to lead others to believe a person is more likeable than those who reflect non-Duchenne smiles.3

People with compromised dentition are often protective of their smiles. Therefore, they project routinely and habitually non-Duchenne smiles. Is it any wonder that they are perceived as less intelligent, less competent and less likeable than our patients with healthy, attractive smiles based on this information? In light of the power of a natural, confident smile, maybe our next conversation about what we can do for our patients should focus on why we’d like to help them with their smile rather than what we can do for them.

“We shall never know all the good that a simple smile can do.”
― Mother Theresa


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