In middle school, I had acne. And glasses. And prescription goggles I needed for playing softball that earned me the nickname “bug.” But, looking back, it was braces that were the most painful appearance-related reality of my teenage years. After all, there are creams to deal with zits, glasses are chic if you wear them right, and even sport goggles can be cool in an ironic sort of way. But braces? There’s no way to ungeek a mouth full of metal.
And yet, I chose to wear them. I could have opted out: My bite was fine, and the braces were for cosmetic purposes only. But that’s how much I coveted a perfect smile.
In an article for Aeon, author Sarah Smarsh discusses the character of Pennsatucky on the popular Netflix series Orange is the New Black, pointing out how fixated audiences were with the girl’s (fake) rotten chompers. Most of the time, Smarsh says, even characters who can’t afford dental care are portrayed by actors with “whitened, straightened, veneered” smiles. That’s how repulsed we are by bad teeth and, conversely, how enamored we are with flawless pearly whites.
So what’s driving our obsession, compelling Americans to spend $2.75 billion on cosmetic dentistry each year? And what’s forcing the rest of us to kick ourselves ceaselessly for (sorry mom!) neglecting to wear our retainers? The answers may surprise you. Good teeth:
1. MAKE YOU MORE HIREABLE
According to a study conducted by Oral B (who obviously has a horse in this race), a white smile can increase a person’s “employment potential” by 10 percent.
2. ARE A SIGN OF FERTILITY
Because gum disease negatively effects the chances of conception, white, perfectly-spaced teeth can make a woman more attractive to potential mates.
3. MAKE PEOPLE THINK YOU'RE HAPPY... EVEN WHEN YOU'RE NOT
How others perceive your level of contentment, as well as your level of popularity, is directly related to the symmetry of your smile.
4. MAKE YOU LOOK ATHLETIC
Trying out for a sports team? A trip to the orthodontist might positively affect perception of your fitness level, experts say.
5. INCREASE MENTAL WELLBEING
Because they decrease stress.
6. ARE A SIGN OF BRAIN POWER...
Nueroscientists have linked poor teeth with cognitive decline.
7. AND GOOD PHYSICAL HEALTH
A tip-top smile is an indicator that other parts of the body are in good working order, including the respiratory system and heart.
8. AND, FINALLY, THEY MAY EVEN LEAD TO LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT
Half of American adults say that, after meeting another person, the smile is the facial feature most memorable. Just another reason to wear that retainer!
Images: Getty; Giphy