Strong Self-Esteem Begins With Effective Orthodontic Treatment

Kerry White-Brown, DDS


A confident smile is extremely important in social settings, especially nowadays in the age of selfies. It also is important at school, at work, and when meeting new people. 

Scientists have determined that the human eye can judge a crooked smile in less than one second. People with attractive smiles are often perceived as more intelligent, better paid, and friendlier.

We all know that it’s not fair to judge a book by its cover. But the truth remains that your smile reveals much about you and your social status, your approach to life, and your confidence. What is your smile saying about you?

In the Schoolyard

In the age of bullying, a smile says a lot about how confortable children are around their peers and how outgoing they will be in social arenas. Kids who aren’t confident in their smiles often hide them. They may feel less secure around their friends and at school.

Let’s face it. Other kids can be cruel! From elementary school onward, peer groups and classmates look for any reason to tease, ostracize, or even outright humiliate kids who are perceived as different.

While we’re not condoning such behavior, we see it every day when our patients come in complaining of other kids teasing them about their crooked teeth, buck teeth, or overbite. Often, children won’t share these comments with parents for fear of being embarrassed at home as well as at school. 

Parents are often surprised by what kids will tell the orthodontist while they’re in a dental chair—what they otherwise would never tell their parents while sitting at the dinner table.

A straight, clean, and healthy smile not only can give children the confidence they need to embrace their true worth, it also can help them socialize easier at school, at church, or in groups and during extracurricular activities. For children, emotional concerns can be just as traumatic as physical concerns.

Subsequently, orthodontic care for a child, preteen, or teen is more than just correcting crooked, crowded teeth with braces. That’s like thinking diabetes only needs attention when feet have to be amputated, or how getting your tires checked might be a good idea after being stranded with a flat at night while it’s pouring rain.

Never smiling isn’t easy in an age of selfies and social media. Children can become self-conscious—painfully self-conscious—and embarrassed. “No thanks, Mom, I’d rather just stay home,” they may say.

Teen suicide has scyrocked since social media shaming and bullying have risen to ugly prominence. Teen depression affects everything from getting the good grades needed to get into a good college to first dates, first loves, and enjoying (or hating) their childhood and teen years. But it doesn’t stop there. Uncorrected, bad smiles go with them to college and into their career.

In the Dental Office

My first encounter with the impact that orthodontics can have on a patient’s self-confidence was during my residency program. My patient in residency was an introverted 12-year-old boy who had a really bad overbite. His front teeth stuck out beyond his lip. He always walked with his head held down.

Ay time I talked to him, he never raised his head or looked me in the eyes. At the time, not realizing how a smile could affect a person’s self-estem, I simply thought, “Okay, he’s just a little shy.”

About a year into his treatment, his bite had improved tremendously. Suddenly, he emerged from his shell. He talked all the time and looked you right in the eyes when you were talking to him.

This change that I saw in him was not just him outgrowing adolescent shyness. It was more about him feeling confident and comfortable with his smile and his overall appearance. He was a different and much happier child. I remember thinking, “If braces can do that, then I’m all in.” 

So much of life depends on how big we dare to dream, and our self-confidence plays a large part in dictating the size of those dreams. British author James Allen said it well: “You are today where your thoughts have brought you. You will be tomorrow where your thoughts will take you.” 

If today you’re saying to yourself, “I’m not attractive, I’m not happy, I’m not confident,” then how is that mindset going to get you to the CEO position at some top-notch Fortune 500 company? Or into medical school? If you’re thinking, “I’m less than,” or “I’m not capable because I’m ashamed of what I look like,” this mentality is not going to get you there, because your mindset is not going to be “I can reach for the stars.”

In 13 Secrets of World-Class Achievers, author Vic Johnson said, “Big doers are big dreamers.” If we don’t give our children what they need to be confident, then our children won’t have what they need to dare to dream lofty dreams and reach their potential in life.

In his classic book, Think and Grow Rich, Napoleon Hill said, “Desire is the starting point of all achievement, the first step to all riches.” We owe it to our kids to do all we can to open their minds to their own possibilities.

Orthodontics can change someone’s life. Those who don’t understand how challenging it is for people to be ashamed of their smile tend to shrug it off. What’s the big deal about having crooked teeth? But 21 years in practice has opened my eyes to the far-reaching emotional impact an ugly smile can have.

Patients often come in telling me about their lack of confidence in themselves as a result of their smile. Adults and children have the same experiences. If these problems aren’t corrected in childhood, the child simply carries these feelings of inadequacy into adulthood.

A real estate agent recently told me that she felt more confident after having corrected her “crooked” smile. She reported being more confident when talking with potential clients. Another adult female patient was sobbing when we took her braces off because she had gone through her entire childhood feeling terrible about her teeth and hated her smile. Once corrected, she was very happy and confident because of her new smile.

Dr. White-Brown has treated more than 18,000 patients through the greater Columbia, South Carolina, area. She attended the Howard University College of Dentistry, where she received her doctor of dental surgery degree and completed her orthodontic specialty training. She is a member of the ADA, American Association of Orthodontists, Southern Association of Orthodontists, South Carolina Association of Orthodontists, and North Carolina/South Carolina Damon Study Club.

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