by Maurizio Tucci
The 25th anniversary of the initiative will be celebrated on 6 October. Healthy mouth and teeth, however, are still a problem for young people as revealed by the Iard Oral Hygiene Observatory
October 6th is celebrated World Smile Day, which celebrates its twenty-fifth birthday this year. The little yellow face with the corners of its mouth turned up, which has become the symbolic image of good will and good humor on the planet, was born in 1963 from the fervent imagination of Harvey Ball, an advertising artist from Worcester, Massachusetts (USA). In short, long before emoticons became such, Ball had the brilliant idea of dedicating at least one day a year to smiling: the first Friday in October.
«Do an act of kindness. Help a person smile!» is the motto for the 2023 edition. And who can blame him? There is a lot of scientific evidence that indicates how smiling (from the production of endorphins, to the stimulation of the immune system, to positive effects on blood pressure…) improves mood, reduces stress and anxiety, and promotes health. And also from a social point of view, the smile is a universal language that overcomes cultural and linguistic barriers, promoting feelings of openness and welcome; makes you more attractive, spreads positive sensations.
The pandemic and damage to oral health
But if it is true that smiling also has important metaphorical meanings – think of “smiling at life” – it is equally true that a healthy mouth and healthy teeth are essential components of a real smile. And precisely referring to the physical-aesthetic aspect, the question is what the “smile” of our adolescents is like. Let’s try to find out through the results of the investigations
Adolescence Laboratory and IARD Research Institute
on the lifestyles of adolescents, who for some years have also created an Observatory on oral hygiene, coordinated by Professor Giampietro Farronato, full professor of Dentistry and member of the Board of Directors of Laboratorio Adolescence, and with the collaboration of the Dental Clinic of the University of Milan .
«Covid – explains Farronato – has certainly not helped oral hygiene care. During the pandemic, attendance at the dentist by adolescents was greatly reduced and limited to reasons of absolute necessity, greatly neglecting oral-dental prevention programs. And the frequency with which they brushed their teeth also decreased.”
Situation slowly improving
Just one figure, but a very significant one: before Covid, 80.5% of adolescents “always” brushed their teeth before going to sleep (one of the most important moments for correct oral hygiene). Covid the percentage dropped to 73% and, if we refer only to males, to 68.9%. Obvious consequence of social isolation during the pandemic and of the use of the mask which had also quarantined the smile. «Since 2022 – says Farronato – the situation has started to slowly improve, but there is still a long way to go to reach the objectives that should be achieved for adequate care of the teeth and oral cavity».
Again drawing on data from the Adolescence Laboratory (2023 survey), 27.6% of the adolescents interviewed (national representative sample of 3,400 adolescents between 13 and 19 years old) say they go to the dentist less than once a year and 32.8 % of going there 1 or maximum 2 times a year. Just as less than half (49.7%) say they go to the dentist for periodic check-ups and not just when faced with an emergency or specific need.
Aesthetic judgment and orthodontic appliances
The fact remains that oral hygiene – and what happened during Covid clearly demonstrates this – is unfortunately still perceived by the majority of adolescents as something predominantly (if not exclusively) aesthetic, while having healthy, clean and straight teeth not only improves smile, but guarantees a better state of health with direct effects on the digestive, respiratory, cardiovascular and immune systems, and on posture. «In all of this – underlines Farronato – the straightening and alignment of the teeth through the use of an orthodontic appliance is also very important. This is because, once again, the need to do so does not only concern the aesthetic aspect, as the poor position of the jaws and teeth causes local and general functional alterations”.
Precisely on this aspect, it is positive to note that 57% of adolescents state that when putting on “braces” they are not conditioned by the aesthetic factor (some even prefer to flaunt it by asking for colored “ties” to be applied), but it should not be underestimated that there ‘there is a significant 40% who, however, suffer from the idea of the aesthetic impact, so much so that they can put the very adherence to use at risk.
The identikit of those who pay attention to oral hygiene
It is no coincidence, among other things, that concern regarding the aesthetic impact of orthodontic appliances increases in proportion to how much girls and boys say they are conditioned, in the self-evaluation of their physical appearance, by the judgment of friends and classmates, but also by how much they are subjected to the aesthetic conditioning of influencers and fashion bloggers. But what is the identikit of the teenager who is most attentive to his oral hygiene and, therefore, to the protection of his smile?
The favorable characteristics (identified through a cross-analysis of independent and dependent variables of the Adolescence Laboratory – IARD survey) appear to be: being female, living in a large city, being over 16 years of age, regularly practicing sports and – for once to mention not in a negative sense – use the Internet and social networks. Returning to Smile Day, not only is smiling good for your health, but having a beautiful smile is also the result of paying attention to your health.
October 6, 2023 (modified October 6, 2023 | 07:45)
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