7 Steps to a Beautiful Smile

Get a gorgeous grin with these simple tips from leading dentists.

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Flashing a big, beautiful smile can work wonders. For one thing, it's contagious. Studies show that just seeing a friend break out in a smile triggers muscles in your face that cause you to smile back. Amazingly, the very act of smiling—even if you're feeling down—can improve your mood. But it can be hard to put on a happy face when you feel embarrassed or even ashamed of your smile. Whether you have broken or stained teeth, bad breath or just a bad mood, here are tips to fix the problem—and get back that dazzling smile.

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Brush and Floss Daily

Brushing (morning and night) and flossing (nightly) are vital to preserve your smile. Many people don't understand correct brushing technique, says Nancy Newhouse, a periodontist in Independence, Missouri, and president of the American Academy of Periodontists. Hold your brush at a 45-degree angle to your teeth, so the bristles can reach under the gumline and remove plaque (a colorless film of bacteria that coats teeth). Brush for two minutes, and don't forget the backs of teeth. Flossing daily is as important as brushing. Grip the floss in a "C" shape, pulling it firmly to scrape off plaque and reach gently under the gumline.

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Whiten Your Teeth

Surface stains are usually caused by coffee, tea, wine or tobacco, while deeper stains are often due to medications, injury or infection. Depending on the type and degree of staining, some people get good results from store-bought whitening products. "Be sure products are ADA-approved, and always follow the manufacturer's instructions—overuse of whiteners can damage tooth enamel and underlying dentin," says William DeVizio, DMD, a licensed dentist and vice president of dental clinical research at Colgate-Palmolive. Professional whitening treatments at your dentist's office can be pricey, but the results are often more impressive and can last up to 3 years.

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Foster Happy Feelings

A smile is an outward sign of inner happiness. First, make a point to spend time with happy people—smiles are catching! Then, to cultivate your own smile-inducing inner joy and help you appreciate the small pleasures in life, try mindfulness meditation. This practice usually includes self-affirmations—positive statements you make about yourself that lead to feelings of calm and contentment. Keeping a gratitude journal, which helps you recognize all the things you're thankful for, is another path to happiness. And be sure to make time for activities that make you smile, such as playing music, painting, gardening or volunteering.

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Eat Right and Work Out

You need strong teeth to eat well, and you need to eat well to have strong teeth. Raw, fresh veggies can naturally clean your teeth, and milk, cheese, chicken, and nuts provide nutrients that repair tooth enamel. For the full effect, add regular exercise to help get those nutrients circulating to your mouth and entire body. Plus, exercising vigorously for 20 minutes or more stimulates brain chemicals called endorphins that leave you feeling happier and more relaxed. The key is to find a type of workout that you look forward to—such as Zumba, tennis or brisk walk with friends. 

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Upgrade Old Fillings

When you laugh or yawn, silver fillings can stand out like sore thumbs. These types of amalgam fillings can also wear out in 5 to 15 years, allowing decay to creep in around the edges. Fortunately, most dentists now fill cavities with materials that bond to teeth better and match your natural tooth color. For fillings that show when you smile, your dentist might use stain-resistant porcelain, and for a cavity in a molar, you'll probably receive a durable composite resin filling. Your dentist will let you know when it's time to replace any old fillings.

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Consider Cosmetic Fixes

Whether you want minor tweaks or a drastic smile makeover, the latest cosmetic techniques can improve your smile and your self-esteem. Cosmetic dentists are specially trained to address dental imperfections in a way that's natural-looking and attractive. They can repair chips, close a gap, replace a missing tooth, even out your gumline, and even permanently whiten and straighten the look of your teeth. Because some of these changes are irreversible, you should do your homework when selecting a cosmetic dentist. Review a portfolio or photo gallery and request the contact information of a few former patients, suggests Gerry Curatola, DDS, of Rejuvenation Dentistry in New York City.

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Straighten Your Smile

Before you commit to any cosmetic dental work, you might want to consider having a consultation with an orthodontist. Orthodontic treatment is far less invasive than veneers, and the results often look more natural. Whether you choose traditional braces, mini braces or clear aligner trays, straightening your teeth can give you a healthier-looking smile in less time than you might think—with results that can last a lifetime.

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Freshen Bad Breath

It's hard to wear a big, beaming smile if you're self-conscious about your breath. Chronic bad breath is usually a sign of bacteria. To keep germs—and halitosis—at bay, floss once and brush your teeth and tongue twice daily. "The vast majority of people don't brush their tongues," says Dr. DeVizio. "The tongue has lots of grooves and valleys, which is a great place for bacteria to hide." In addition to routine cleanings at least twice a year, antimicrobial mouthwashes can also help.

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