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Why White Teeth Matter for Your Self Esteem (And How to Smile Again)

Christian Rigg
Beautiful young woman smiling with white teeth
Your smile is often the first thing people notice about you, and it can leave a lasting impression. In fact, the human brain is actually hardwired to focus on people’s eyes and mouth, meaning your smile gets a lot of attention.

As a result, it’s not unusual for people who are self-conscious about their teeth to struggle with self-esteem. Fortunately, there are steps anyone can take to feel more confident and reclaim their smile.

The connection between teeth and self-esteem

The way we feel about ourselves physically is closely tied to how we feel about ourselves emotionally. A negative self-image can lead to feelings of low self-esteem and self-worth. Feeling self-conscious about any part of your body can thus lower your self-esteem—but it’s especially true of teeth.

That’s partly due to the widespread adoption of braces and teeth whitening treatments in Western society and the proliferation of “perfect” smiles in movies and on social media, which have both significantly raised the standards on what people think of as “good teeth.” Like other—often unrealistic—body standards imposed on us by society, well-aligned, white teeth are often associated with overall health and prosperity. Faced with a barrage of perfectly straight, pearly white teeth, it’s no wonder many people feel self-conscious about their own smile.

Unsurprisingly, then, there is a wealth of science that confirms the connection between dental disorders and poor self-esteem. Indeed, one study conducted by OnePoll for Snow Teeth Whitening found that a whopping 70% of Americans admit to feeling insecure about their teeth, and nearly 60% cover their mouths when they laugh. The same number reported wishing they could change their teeth, with discoloration being the most common complaint. 

Smile and the world smiles with you

Feeling self-conscious about your smile can negatively impact your self-esteem in other ways, too.

Smiling plays an important role in the kinds of interactions we have. An open smile demonstrates availability, eagerness, and interest in conversation partners. Conversely, failing to smile—and especially failing to respond to another’s smile—can elicit negative feelings or reactions from conversation partners. 

Hiding your smile because you’re self-conscious about it may contribute to feelings of low self-worth by reducing the number of positive interactions you have throughout the day. We all rely on positive interactions with our friends, family, and coworkers to buoy and reinforce feelings of self-worth. If feeling self-conscious about your teeth is making you smile less often, it could be robbing you of the joy we all feel when we have a friendly interaction with our peers. 

Science also tells us that the frequency with which we smile can actually have an effect on how happy we are and how good we feel about ourselves. It may seem backwards, but smiling can actually make you happier, even if you’re not smiling about anything in particular. The more intense the smile, the greater the emotional impact. Hiding away your smile because you’re feeling self-conscious can make you feel like you’re in a real rut. 

How to win back your smile and confidence

The good news is, there’s plenty you can do to improve your situation and boost your self-esteem.

First of all, remember that you’re not alone. Millions of people around the world feel self-conscious about their teeth. It might feel like you’re the only one among your friends, family, or coworkers, but the statistics say otherwise! Feeling self-conscious about your teeth, especially if you’ve noticed some discoloration or misalignment, is not a unique situation. Because you feel self-conscious about it, you may have a tendency to focus on others whose teeth are whiter or better aligned, but in reality, many people struggle with their smile. 

If you’re looking to take action and improve your smile, though, there’s also plenty you can do. 

Start with a trip to the dentist

First, make it a priority to go see your dentist, and then continue to do so regularly. Your dentist is there to help you. They’ll work with you to keep your teeth and gums healthy, and can help you devise a care plan for your smile. If you don’t have a regular dentist, you should have no trouble finding one online. 

That said, it’s normal to feel some anxiety around your first dentist visit. For many people, it can feel like a big hurdle. That same OnePoll study we cited above found that people will do just about anything to avoid the dentist. 30% of respondents said they’d rather watch the same movie 3 times in a row than visit the dentist. The same number would rather sit in silence for 45 minutes. 25% said they’d rather babysit an infant for 3 hours or have dinner with their in-laws. One in five people said they'd rather catch up with an ex for an hour and a half!

Nonetheless, it’s an essential first step. Your dentist can also help you with crookedness or misalignment. Plus, good dental hygiene contributes to your overall health, while poor dental hygiene can lead to serious health problems. So in addition to providing information on how you can improve your smile, your dentist will also help keep your mouth and body healthier—which can boost your mood and confidence. 

Make dental hygiene a daily routine

You may already brush your teeth and floss regularly, and if that’s the case, simply keep it up. If not, regularly brushing and flossing your teeth will stop your teeth from deteriorating and contribute to good dental hygiene and good breath.

If you’ve not been regularly brushing or flossing, you may notice some discomfort, even a little blood, when you begin. Speak to your dentist about any trouble you have, and they can recommend an appropriate course of action, like purchasing a softer toothbrush for the first few weeks.

You can also reduce your consumption of foods or drinks that stain your teeth, like coffee, soda, or red wine. All of this will serve to stop your teeth from deteriorating further. However, to actually improve the color of your teeth, consider looking at teeth whitening options. 

Look at options for teeth whitening

Teeth whitening has become increasingly popular in recent years. Today, there are a number of teeth whitening options that are effective, inexpensive, and, most importantly, safe. So if you’re worried about your smile and think teeth whitening might help you feel better, we say, go for it! 

If you’re not sure where to get started, you can check out our round-up of the best teeth whitening kits available today. Treatments vary from just $13.50 to $149, depending on how quickly you want results, how long the treatment will last, and what method is used (like an LED treatment). Many also have a money-back guarantee, so you can safely invest in your new smile.

Bottom line

Many people around the world feel self-conscious about their teeth. Not only have dental hygiene and aesthetics changed in recent years, but teeth whitening has become common and widespread. Your teeth and smile can impact the quality of the interactions you have with people in addition to the way you feel about yourself.

Fortunately, you can take steps towards a brighter, more confident smile, including visiting your dentist regularly for dental health, practicing good oral hygiene at home to stop your teeth from deteriorating, and investing in a whitening kit to bring them back to a healthy, white splendor.

Christian Rigg
Christian is a psychology and mental health writer with interests in social psychology, psychopathology, and well-being. He holds a degree in Neuropsychology from the University of Toronto and has written for a variety of online publications including PsyPost.org, TrackingHappiness.com, and Top10.com.

The author of this article has been paid by Natural Intelligence to write this article. Neither the author nor Natural Intelligence provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or your local emergency number immediately.