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The Science Behind a Smile

The Science Behind a Smile
6 months ago

World Smile Day is on October 15th, and since happy grins are the name of the game at SmileMakers, we’re interested in everything from healthy teeth to the science behind your smile.

The Science Behind a Smile

A smile is one of the tell-tale signs of happiness and joy. When we’re happy, a smile is a natural gesture that we don’t need to think about or force. Why does a child smile when their doctor gives them Mini Noise Putty or Frozen Anna and Elsa Stickers? It turns out that a smile is an intricate, organic process that involves more than just your mouth and teeth:

The Science Behind a Smile

The Short Answer
The brain is a good place to start if you want to find out why your facial muscles make certain movements when you’re happy. A smile occurs when certain hormones are released in your brain, and your brain, in turn, sends signals to specific muscles in your face. The hormones responsible for these signals are endorphins, serotonin, and dopamine which are known to be natural pain and stress relievers, as well as antidepressants. Essentially, when we experience happiness, these feel-good hormones stimulate nerves in your brain, then activate muscles that cause your cheeks to rise and the edges of your mouth to curve up into a smile.

Happiness Hormones
So, what causes your brain to release endorphins, serotonin, and dopamine when you’re happy? Dopamine is commonly referred to as “the reward molecule” because this hormone is released when you achieve a goal. Dopamine is responsible for feelings of accomplishment. So, when a pediatric patient is given a sticker or temporary tattoo after an appointment, dopamine is released and a message is sent to muscles to create a beaming smile. Similarly, endorphins are also known as “the pain-killing molecule”, and serotonin is referred to as “the confidence molecule”. All of these hormones together send messages to your muscles and cause a smile.

The Science Behind a Smile

Two Major Muscles
The two muscles that play the largest role in creating a smile are the zygomaticus major and the orbicularis oculi. The zygomaticus major is the muscle that draws the corners of your mouth upward to create your grin. The orbicularis oculi is the muscle that surrounds your eye socket and is responsible for the movement at the corners of your eyes when you smile.

Smiling is Good for Your Health, and We’re Here to Help!
Many studies have shown that the hormones involved in a smile are beneficial to your overall health and happiness. Dopamine gives your brain energy, endorphins trigger a positive, euphoric feeling in the body, and serotonin stabilizes our moods. Our smiles are outward expressions of a happy mind and healthy body, and SmileMakers encourages your patients to beam with joy!

Ready to celebrate World Smile Day?
Check out SmileMakers stickers, prizes and giveaways to keep your little patients smiling long after they leave your office. The surprise of a character toy or the reward of candy and gum will trigger happiness hormones and a genuine, appreciative smile!


Bergland, Christopher (2012). The Neurochemicals of Happiness
Retrieved from: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-athletes-way/201211/the-neurochemicals-happiness

Widrich, Leo (2016). The Science of Smiling: A Guide to The World’s Most Powerful Gesture
Retrieved from: https://blog.bufferapp.com/the-science-of-smiling-a-guide-to-humans-most-powerful-gesture

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