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Why Do Humans See Smiles as Friendly?

We have a lot in common with primates. Just like humans, primates will beg for food, laugh out loud, and even eat junk food when struggling with stress! But one thing we don’t share is our attitude on smiling. While we see the smile as a friendly gesture, in primates, the baring of teeth can be read as a symbol of aggression.

Why We Smile

To study how the smile has evolved, we must first identify how the smile functions in our current world. One way scientists do this is by looking at when and how babies display smiles. Anthony Stocks, chairman and professor of anthropology at Idaho State University, notes that not all smiles are equal — while babies may display a broad, open-mouthed, but not tooth-baring smile to indicate happiness, they also sometimes display a tooth-baring “smile” as an expression of fright. And this isn’t just learned behavior, either; studies have shown that children who are born blind display the same types of smiles, and under the same circumstances, as seeing children.

Primates and humans see smiles differently

Of course, it’s not just babies who smile when they aren’t feeling happy. Culturally speaking, we display plenty of smiles that aren’t motivated by joy. Think of the smiles that politicians and celebrities put on for a public appearance, or the forced “say cheese” smile that many people automatically perform in front of a camera. We even smile differently based on our culture!

There may be a clue in primate behavior: While bared teeth and an open mouth is a threatening display, bared teeth with a closed mouth is displayed by some primates as a submissive gesture. Perhaps the human smile evolved from that gesture, intending to show those we interact with that we are not a threat. There’s some support for that theory, as UFC fighters who smile less tend to win more.

How Smiling Impacts Our Lives

Regardless of how it happened, the fact is that smiling plays a huge part in our lives. Studies have indicated that if you smile at people, they’re more likely to remember you. Smiling even makes you more likely to get promoted at work!

Unfortunately, many people don’t feel comfortable displaying their smile because of cosmetic problems with their teeth. You don’t need to let crooked or yellow teeth stop you from smiling! A cosmetic dentist like Dr. Rod Strober can give you the smile of your dreams.

If you struggle with discolored teeth, you can see lightening effects of up to ten shades with just one in-office bleaching treatment! If you have particularly stubborn stains, KöR Whitening is a powerful option that can be performed at home, on your own schedule.

If crooked teeth keep you from smiling, Invisalign is a popular, affordable, and fast-working option to straighten them out discreetly. Or, if you want even quicker results, you may be a candidate for Six Month Smiles.


Other cosmetic issues, like one or two heavily discolored teeth, chipped teeth, or teeth that are too small, can be corrected in just a few short appointments with porcelain veneers.

It’s time for your smile makeover! Call (619) 299-5925 or contact us online to make an appointment at Strober Dental in San Diego and learn how you can get the smile of your dreams.

By |January 19th, 2017|Smiles|