Even your favourite Instagram filter can’t hide discoloured teeth. To keep your selfie on point, make sure your pearly whites are, well, pearly white! Here’s how lifestyle changes and dental care can help.
No one really knew what selfies were a decade ago, but now, it seems we can’t get enough of them. In 2014 alone – the most recent year statistics are available – Google said that 93 million selfies were taken2, and it’s reasonable to assume significantly more ‘self photos taken with a hand-held device’6 have been captured since. That popularity has led to a surge of interest in wanting to look our best online, experts say – particularly when it comes to smiles.
Australian research by the Oral Health Advisory Panel revealed that 48 percent of people see a smile as the most important feature of a selfie, however 58 percent of them don’t like to show their teeth in them. In fact, more than two million Aussies aren’t happy with how their teeth look3 , and that has driven a lot of people to seek out ways to achieve selfie-perfect smiles.
“With Instagram and Facebook being such a huge part of many people’s lives, having a great smile is very important to a lot of people,” says dentist Dr Thomas Cocks from The Dental Centre in Broken Hill, NSW. “And with each new smartphone that comes out we have these fantastic cameras with amazing resolution, so everything stands out when you do take a photo, so it definitely is something people are concerned about.”
Mona Lisa’s secret
There’s a scientific reason we highly value an alluring smile. Research shows that viewing attractive faces activates the orbitofrontal cortex in the brain – an area involved in processing sensory rewards – and even more so when those faces are smiling.1 That means the brain has a positive association with a smile.5
Another study found that people regarded the size of their teeth, visibility of teeth and upper lip position as being the most important factors in determining their smile’s attractiveness.4
As boring as it may sound, oral hygiene is one of the best ways to nail a selfie-perfect smile. Brushing and flossing twice daily,9 and making sure you don’t skip regular dentist appointments, are all important.
“One of the best things to maintain your smile is to have a regular dental clean and check with your dentist and hygienist,” confirms Cocks. “If you have a regular removal of staining and all the plaque that accumulates with a regular diet, that’s a really great way to keep your teeth looking pretty white.”
It makes sense that what you put in your mouth has an effect on the health and appearance of your teeth – and most of us know that smoking causes yellow teeth. Nicotine and tar in cigarettes causes discolouration – plus, smoking causes teeth loss and increased risk of tooth decay.8 So if you’re a smoker, one of the best things you can do for your oral health is to quit.
Making smart choices about nutrition can also improve your smile by eliminating the sources of ‘extrinsic staining’ (which means staining on the tooth enamel).9 The worst food offenders are coffee, tea and red wine, which contain colour pigments called chromogens that stick to tooth enamel.7 Speaking of wine, drinking to excess is also problematic – alcohol is sugary and acidic,8 which contributes to teeth erosion.
“If you’re like me and you don’t want to give up the more delicious things in life like your morning coffee, what I normally tell people is to rinse out or have some water afterwards – it’s a really great way to reduce staining on your teeth, and have a regular clean to remove any stains that do occur,” says Cocks.
Highly pigmented foods such as beetroot, chocolate, berries, pickles and candy can also stain teeth, while soy sauce, curries and tomato sauce can cause yellowing – so consume these foods or beverages in moderation. If you do indulge, brush your teeth one hour after eating; chewing sugarless gum can also help neutralise the acids in your mouth.9
In terms of good food choices, foods high in fibre can help lower acid levels in the mouth while leafy greens such as spinach can create more saliva in the mouth, helping clean teeth.9 Fibre is found in wholegrains, oats and vegetables such as carrots and broccoli.10
Lifting your selfie game
No one goes to the dentist specifically saying they want to improve their smiles for selfies, Cocks points out, but plenty come in because they’ve noticed something in photos they’re not happy about.
“The things you need to look at are: are the teeth straight, are they a good colour, and are they the right size – so is there one that’s too small or are there gaps, and could some small changes to the shape improve their smile? Also looking at the gums – are they in good condition? – and the lips. All these things play a part in a really great smile,” Cocks says.
While it’s normal to want a beautiful smile, Cocks warns against going overboard – especially when it comes to whitening your teeth (more about that here).
“I believe a natural smile that people don’t always know has been altered is the best,” he says. “Of course we get patients who come in and they want people to know they’ve had their teeth done, but the vast majority of people want to have a natural smile that looks good, so I always tell patients to resist the urge to go with that ultra-bright white.”
1 The Psychological Study of Smiling [Online] 2011 Available from: www.psychologicalscience.org
2 Google divulges numbers at I/O: 20 billion texts, 93 million selfies and more [Online] 2014 Available from: www.bizjournals.com
3 World Smile Day – what really lies behind the Aussie grin? [Online] 2018 Available from: www.ada.org.au
4 Smile attractiveness. Self-perception and influence on personality [Online] 2007 Available from: www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov
5 The functions of the orbitofrontal cortex [Online] 2004 Available from: www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov
6 How do “selfies” impact adolescents' well-being and body confidence? A narrative review [Online] 2019 Available from: www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov
7 Whitening: 5 Things to Know About Getting a Brighter Smile [Online] Available from: www.mouthhealthy.org
8 Lifestyle Risks [Online] 2020 Available from: www.ada.org.au
9 What causes discolored teeth and is there any way to cure or prevent staining? [Online] 2016 Available from: now.tufts.edu
10 Fibre [Online] 2014 Available from: www.nutritionaustralia.org