What Does Your Smile Say About You?

Medically Reviewed by Alfred D. Wyatt Jr., DMD on June 23, 2014
3 min read

Want to succeed in business, fill up your social calendar, and get more romance into your life? One secret may be in your smile.

Your smile -- simple, straightforward, and most important, sincere -- can attract more than admiring looks. A smiling face tells people that you’re an outgoing and intelligent person worth getting to know.

"When someone has a big smile, it shows they’re willing to open up and expose a part of themselves," says Pamela McClain, DDS, a past president of the American Academy of Periodontology. Over the long term, smiling can benefit your health, perception at work, social life, and romantic status. With that much at stake, it's worthwhile to discover what your smile is saying about you -- and how to interpret the smiles flashed your way.

Many Americans look at the mouth to judge a person’s mood, but people smile for all sorts of reasons: anger, fear, embarrassment, confusion, to deceive. It’s really your eyes that give you away.

The muscles around the eyes can’t be forced to look happy. When people smile for real, their cheeks rise and the skin around their eyes bunches up. In fact, in certain countries where suppressing emotion is a cultural norm, people look more at each other’s eyes to gauge emotion.

"A smile conveys confidence and professionalism," says Lily T. Garcia, DDS, a past president of the American College of Prosthodontists. People who project a positive outlook are generally more open and flexible. They tend to cope better with challenges than people who are withdrawn and unsmiling.

A study that followed a group of women for 30 years shows the lifetime benefits of smiling. The women who displayed genuinely happy smiles in their college yearbook photos went on to have happier marriages and greater well-being.

In the same study, a group of strangers looked at the college photos and reported their assumptions about the women’s personalities. The women who smiled were judged to be more positive and competent than those who didn’t.

Want to be happy? Just smile. Believe it or not, forcing yourself to smile can actually make you happier.

Paul Ekman, PhD, a psychologist who is an expert in facial expressions, taught himself to arrange the muscles in his face to make certain expressions. To his surprise, he found himself feeling the emotions that he was mimicking. When he raised his cheeks, parted his lips, and turned the corners of his mouth up, he felt happier.

Ekman and his research partner went on to do a study of college students to see if they, too, would feel happier by making themselves smile. The researchers measured the students’ brain activity while the students followed instructions to smile using the muscles in their cheeks and around their mouths.

Whether the students smiled spontaneously or on purpose, the activity in their brains was virtually the same. They felt happy.

Chipped or missing teeth, fillings, or discolored teeth are unveiled when your lips part to smile -- so some people simply avoid it.

If you find yourself wanting to cover up your smile, you could be holding yourself back in more ways than you realize. "Life is much more challenging for people who are so self-conscious about their teeth they don’t want to smile," McClain says. Make a date with your dentist to talk about your concerns and potential corrections. Many dental problems can be fixed.

One of McClain’s patients with excess gum tissue was ashamed of her short-looking teeth. "We did a procedure called crown lengthening, and it was amazing what a difference it made,” McClain says. “She was so much more self-confident."

Show Sources


Harker, L. Journal of personality and social psychology, January 2001.

Pamela McClain, DDS, Aurora, CO; past president, American Academy of Periodontology.

Lyubomirsky, S. Psychological bulletin, 2005.

LaFrance, M. Lip Service: Smiles in Life, Death, Trust, Lies, Work, Memory, Sex, and Politics, W.W. Norton, 2011.

Ekman, P. Emotions Revealed: Recognizing Faces and Feelings to Improve Communication and Emotional Life, Holt, 2004.

Yuki, M. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, March 2007.

Lily T. Garcia, DDS, associate dean for education, prosthodontics department, University of Iowa; past president, American College of Prosthodontists.

Ekman, P. Psychological Science, September 1993.

Columbia University College of Dental Medicine: "Whiter Teeth: What Works?"

American Dental Association: "Tooth Whitening."

American Academy of Periodontology: "Dental Crown Lengthening Procedure," "Procedures for Treating Gum Disease."

National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research: "Periodontal (Gum) Disease: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments."

American College of Prosthodontists: "Bridges, Crowns and Dental Implants."

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