Understanding Smiles Part 1

August 21, 2023 Bradley Portenoy, DDS
Smile behavior is influenced by the individual’s feelings about their smile.

Smiles are an integral part of human communication. They make us appear more attractive, approachable, happy, agreeable, and attentive. Studies have shown that people who are happy with their smiles are more confident, have a greater sense of well-being, and this is also reflected in their behavior. In one study, subjects were shown photos of people with nice smiles. The subjects deemed these people as being more socially competent, with greater intellectual achievement and better psychological adjustment. These smiles are contagious and It’s easy to reciprocate when someone gives you that “genuine smile.” We’ve all seen this smile, but what makes it genuine?

There are a variety of smiles that reflect a wide array of emotions. From flirtatious to embarrassed, our smiles reflect our mood and communicate our thoughts. Or do they? When people are unhappy with the appearance of their smile they present a variety of guarding. There’s upper lip guarding, lower lip guarding, both lips guarding, covering one’s mouth with a hand, and of course close lip grins.

As dentists, we must be able to spend time with our patients, to see those smiles, and to delve into why a patient may be guarding. In a sense, we must become esthetic psychologists. It is not an overstatement to say that as dentists, we don’t just change teeth; we can change lives. We can shape how others see our patients. If a patient cannot give a genuine unencumbered smile, perhaps, they’ll miss an employment opportunity or meeting that special someone. Perhaps they’ll be seen by others as unfriendly or unapproachable.

So, is there a “genuine smile” that can be quantified? In the 1800s, a French anatomist by the name of Guillaume Duchenne sought to answer that question. Duchenne, through stimulating facial muscles, found that the most genuine, sincere smile occurred when 3 muscle groups fired: the orbicularis oris and zygomaticus major in the mouth and the orbicularis oculi of the eye forming crows’ feet.

Most consider the resulting Duchenne smile to be the genuine smile that is spontaneous and sincere. Studies have shown that this type of smile can elevate mood, change body stress response, and is responsible for the release of endorphins, dopamine, and serotonin. In all, the Duchenne smile is the Holy Grail. It is certainly about the smile but a major component is the formation of crows’ feet around the eyes. Just think of the song When Irish Eyes Are Smiling. The Duchenne smile in all its splendor is sure to steal your heart away. My point is that we need to remember that the Duchenne smile is about the mouth AND the eyes; these elements are interconnected.

What we’ll need to evaluate as Dentists is whether Botox injections and plastic surgery affect the Duchenne smile. Certainly, in the case of the Botox smile, the answer is yes since the elevator muscles of the mouth are injected thus altering the Duchenne muscle contractions. Obviously, it is vital then to take a good health history and determine whether a patient is smile guarding or simply cannot fire the muscles that make up the Duchenne smile.

In making dental changes, we change lives. We shape how others see our patients and how they see themselves. This is priceless work. It is worthy work. But until a patient desires the best results that today’s dentistry can achieve and trusts us to execute the technical aspects of their new smile, we are in listening, understanding, and guidance mode. We are leading them forward with primary, essential care and taking them on a long journey to achieve what is possible. With each new dental restoration, they may smile more broadly and lift their head higher. They will feel the release of endorphins and serotonins. They will experience the positivity of greater self-confidence.

Artful comprehensive dentists are like behavioral psychologists who have the sincere intention of doing their utmost for the benefit of their patients.

You know what greater smile benefits are possible if the patient understands and wants to continue with aesthetic treatment. Patience is a virtue. So, spark the curiosity of your patients and lead gently but with confidence. Never forget that a patient who is concerned about the cost of elective treatment today will be thanking you profusely two to three years from now and saying the decision to move forward with a comprehensive smile makeover was one of the best decisions of their life.

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E3: Restorative Integration of Form & Function

DATE: January 12 2025 @ 8:00 am - January 16 2025 @ 2:30 pm

Location: The Pankey Institute

CE HOURS: 41

Dentist Tuition: $ 7400

Single Occupancy with Ensuite Private Bath (per night): $ 345

THIS COURSE IS SOLD OUT Understanding that “form follows function” is critical for knowing how to blend what looks good with what predictably functions well. E3 is the phase of…

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About Author

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Bradley Portenoy, DDS

Dr. Bradley Portenoy earned his Doctorate of Dental Surgery with Thesis Honors in Behavioral Science from SUNY at Buffalo School of Dental Medicine in 1985. Dr. Portenoy practices comprehensive relationship-based family dentistry in Rockville Centre, NY. He was one of the first dentists to complete the Pankey Scholar program at The Pankey Institute (2002) and has been on the Visiting Faculty of the Institute since 2005. Currently, he also serves on the advisory board of the L.D. Pankey Dental Foundation, Inc.

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On Addressing Traumatic Experiences

September 4, 2020 Paul Henny DDS

When we have experienced a deeply traumatic event, such as an emotionally laden death, or the near-death of a family member, what is often left behind is emotional debris with the potential to follow us around indefinitely. Subsequently, we can become haunted by memories of what happened, or what we should have done to make things better. These kinds of recurring thought patterns can easily bleed over into our daily lives and negatively influence our behavior—and our future.

On a neurobiological level, this occurs as our brain is designed to keep self-preservation as its highest priority. Thus, possessing the ability to quickly recall traumatic events protects us from similar things happening in the future. But commonly, this constant re-remembering can lead us into a state of psychological paralysis, depression and/or chronic anxiety, and poor decision-making.

At the present time, many patients live in fear of going to the dentist, because they believe there is too high of an infection risk. Concurrently, they consider the process of addressing their dental needs as being a lower life risk. These shadows of fear can remain strong in their mind, particularly when they have a family member who is in a high-risk category. Simultaneously, some dental team members have made the decision to leave dentistry for similar reasons. However, both challenges are happening at significantly lower rates within relationship-based / health-centered dental practices, as these practices have already built strong, enduring bridges of communication within their patient pools.

The Shadow

A contagious virus is a concept most people understand. The level of anxiety this virus has generated world-wide is something many cannot successfully manage alone. We have all had patients whose past dental experiences were so negative and their thinking about it so distorted they cannot recall why certain situations trigger their dental PTSD. Carl Jung referred to the source of these recurring thoughts as “the shadow.” Buried memories and their emotional associations can be so strong that they take complete control over a person’s behavior.

Letting Go

The brain does not stop maintaining its focus on traumatic memories until it has come up with a rational explanation for why they happened and a plan for how to avoid them in the future. On this, Jung stated, “Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.”

CoDiscovery was designed to address the influence of the shadow’s influence on current behavior patterns, in much the same way as psychotherapy facilitates the exploration of the past and associates new meanings with those memories. It is intended to help patients associate new meanings with what they are learning about their dental past.

The “Rogerian” therapy model of unconditional positive regard, congruence, and non-judgementalism is an ideal format for patients to safely explore their fears, beliefs, values, and priorities. And that’s why Bob Barkley and Nate Kohn, Jr., Ph.D., leaned so heavily on Carl Rogers’ work. Bob Barkley put this re-experiencing process under an umbrella he called, “Three Phase Adult Education,” and the rest became history.

The Future

As optimistic as the future appears to be regarding the successful management and treatment of COVID-19, this pandemic experience has reshaped our thinking—our “shadows,” forever. How we manage these memories, conscious and subconscious, will have a lot of influence on our success going forward. If we demonstrate we are on the same side as our patients in preventing COVID-19’s negative impact, we create yet another strategic advantage we can leverage against our transaction-oriented competition. On the other hand, if we allow our patients’ fear-driven “shadows” to drive their decision-making, we will rue the day we allowed this proverbial cart to be placed in front of their psychological horse.

Bob and Nate had it right. CoDiscovery is the pathway to deeper understanding, hence better decision-making. And better decision-making is exactly what our profession needs right now.

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DATE: March 24 2024 @ 8:00 am - March 28 2024 @ 2:30 pm

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night with private bath: $ 290

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About Author

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Paul Henny DDS

Dr. Paul Henny maintains an esthetically-focused restorative practice in Roanoke, Virginia. Additionally, he has been a national speaker in dentistry, a visiting faculty member of the Pankey Institute, and visiting lecturer at the Jefferson College or Health Sciences. Dr. Henny has been a member of the Roanoke Valley Dental Society, The Academy of General Dentistry, The American College of Oral Implantology, The American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry, and is a Fellow of the International Congress of Oral Implantology. He is Past President and co-founder of the Robert F. Barkley Dental Study Club.

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I Am, Therefore I Think

February 27, 2020 Paul Henny DDS

Cogito, ergo sum is a philosophical proposition developed by René Descartes translated as “I think, therefore I am.” The proposition went on to become a fundamental element of a developing secular Western philosophy. Descartes asserted that the very act of doubting our own existence served as proof that we exist. 

But that’s pretty thin gruel.  

I believe Descartes got it backwards. I contend that he should have said, “I am, therefore I think.” Each of us has been given an amazing gift. In fact, we’ve been given many gifts such as life itself, but I am referring to the gift of thought and contemplation. And it’s a gift which can either make us or paralyze us into a state of inaction and failure. 

Success in practice today comes down to one thing and one thing only. Those of us who master the ability to think and solve problems quickly and efficiently with foresight will ultimately win the game, set, and match. The rest will be marginalized, consumed, controlled, oppressed, and limited by third parties. 

Our brains work like an executive committee of three memberseach with its own primary purpose, which either work in harmony to achieve great things or which work at counter-purposes on a level that is counter-productive or even self-destructive. 

Our executive committee is made up of: 

  1. A primal “reptilian” brain which is focused on very basic functions and maintenance.  
  2. A rapid pre-cognitive information gathering, analysis, and response system designed for the purpose of self-preservation, known as the limbic system. 
  3. A super-computer information processing system that can take new and stored information, reorganize it and then CREATE things like the Declaration of Independence or the Toccata and Fugue in D minor. It’s called our prefrontal cortex.” It’s our brain’s CEO. 

How well we are able to coordinate these three aspects of our mind largely defines our future. And that coordination is only possible when we are clear about our central purpose in life and practice. Have you become clear about who you are…what you want for yourself…what you want for others? What are the sacrifices you are willing to make to achieve them? And how will others benefit from it all? These are the kinds of questions that help keep our executive committee on the right course, allowing it to be adaptable, as well as progressive in a rapidly changing marketplace. 

L.D. Pankey taught us that creating a written practice philosophy was the most important step in building the practice of our dreams. Why? Because it puts our executive committee on-task and keeps it there.   

“I think, therefore I am,” or “I am, therefore I think?” Understanding the distinction and leveraging it will make all the difference in the world. 

Related Course

E3: Restorative Integration of Form & Function

DATE: October 5 2025 @ 8:00 am - October 9 2025 @ 2:30 pm

Location: The Pankey Institute

CE HOURS: 41

Dentist Tuition: $ 7400

Single Occupancy with Ensuite Private Bath (per night): $ 345

Understanding that “form follows function” is critical for knowing how to blend what looks good with what predictably functions well. E3 is the phase of your Essentials journey in which…

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About Author

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Paul Henny DDS

Dr. Paul Henny maintains an esthetically-focused restorative practice in Roanoke, Virginia. Additionally, he has been a national speaker in dentistry, a visiting faculty member of the Pankey Institute, and visiting lecturer at the Jefferson College or Health Sciences. Dr. Henny has been a member of the Roanoke Valley Dental Society, The Academy of General Dentistry, The American College of Oral Implantology, The American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry, and is a Fellow of the International Congress of Oral Implantology. He is Past President and co-founder of the Robert F. Barkley Dental Study Club.

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