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The Tooth About Good Dentition & Societal Perceptions

Updated: Apr 3, 2021

This article may sound a bit superficial, but what I hope to present here are the facts as we know them about the correlation between good dentition and how we are perceived by society. There have been a number of interesting articles looking at dentition and the snap judgments that others make based on this aspect of our physical appearance.

As you may have guessed it, there appears to be a positive correlation between good oral hygiene and the inferences we make about the overall happiness, general health, and career success of others.

Those with Good Dentition are Perceived as Being More Trustworthy, and Successful

A study by the Kelton group that is frequently touted by the makers of Invisalign (let’s take this data with a grain of salt, shall we) examined how dentition plays a major role in the assumptions that we make about strangers.

In this study, 1,047 Americans over the age of 18 were shown pictures of individuals with crooked teeth vs those with perfectly aligned smiles. Each participant was blinded to the variable being tested, i.e. dentition. On average, those with nicer smiles were perceived as being happier, healthier, and wealthier. They were also believed to be more trustworthy, friendlier, and more likely to have professional success. [1]

Whiter Teeth Gets Higher Ratings for Social Competence and Intelligence

Another study looking at the impact of whitened teeth showed similar results. 180 women were given one of three pictures, that of an individual with digitally whitened teeth, one without digital enhancement, or one with digitally modified decaying teeth. They were then provided with a questionnaire to answer based on the picture they saw. The participants responded to the picture of discolored teeth with, “Poorer ratings of social competence, intellectual ability, psychological adjustment, and relationship status” with the picture of a person with digitally whitened teeth receiving the highest ratings. [2]

It’s an unfortunate reality that our external appearance is used by others, consciously or unconsciously, to make judgments about the internal qualities that we may possess. In a perfect world, this wouldn’t be the case. But since we know this to be an unfortunate reality, let’s focus on the steps we can take to make the best first impression possible. More importantly, since good dental hygiene can have significant health implications when not taken seriously, let’s also applaud ourselves for living a healthier life while doing so.

How can we Improve our Dentition?

Obviously, good dentition starts with regular brushing, flossing, use of mouthwash and dental cleanings every 6 months. Since you should already be in the habit of brushing at least twice per day (If not, get to brushin’! Go on, get!), let’s focus on how we can floss more.

Floss Regularly

I keep packages of floss picks in my car which helps me floss 1-2 times per day. It’s no added time on my part and has developed into a habit I actually look forward to upon getting into the car.

Flossing can also be easily incorporated into your morning routine by keeping it alongside your toothbrush. Whenever you brush, you floss. Simple. Check out our article on habit stacking for more information how to optimize your morning routine.

Buy floss that feels comfortable on your gums. I typically use Oral-B glide picks, however, through a little trial and error you can find the floss that suits you best.

Dental Cleanings Every 6 Months (or More)

Go for dental cleanings every 6 months. I don’t care if you have dental insurance. Just go! The $80 you’ll spend will pay dividends in the future. I didn’t have cavities until I was in my mid 20’s. Growing up my parents were religious about taking my sister and I for regular cleanings. Once I entered medical school, I decided to forgo this cleaning due to a perceived lack of time and dental insurance coverage. I neglected my teeth for over 4 years! Thinking back now I realize how ridiculous this was on my part.

Any guess on what happened during my next dental eval? They found 6 cavities! I was in disbelief. Not only did it suck having those cavities filled but it wound up costing several hundred dollars, totally wiping out any perceived savings from 4 years of missed cleanings. If you’re afraid you won’t be able to cover the $80 look for dental schools in your area that may offer services at a substantially reduced cost.

Consider Whitening Your Teeth

Consider whitening your teeth. I use Crest Whitestrips which you can purchase for under $40 dollars. Typically I whiten my teeth twice per year. After doing so, I always get positive remarks from others. More importantly, I feel a bit better about my external appearance. Sure, this is a bit vain on my part, but, hey, it makes me feel good and is a relatively small investment!

Like any of the information provided on this blog, it is always important to consult with a medical/dental professional before implementing any of the above action items to ensure that these are safe for you.

Ultimately, good dentition allows us to live a healthier, and in turn, happier life. It has an added bonus of influencing those around us in a positive manner, even though this may or may not be well-deserved.

Now that we’ve mastered the art of better oral hygiene, let’s work on recognizing the biases we all have toward people based on external appearances alone.


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