There are many documented benefits of smiling.¹ It makes us feel good, it makes people around us feel good and it has a physiologic health benefit. But what about laughter?
Sitting in the dental chair is stressful. Even if your dentist is excellent, it’s nerve-racking to get through treatment. Stress increases cortisol levels² which can lead to weight gain³, sleep and mood problems and can set the stage for increased blood pressure and type 2 diabetes.4
Increased cortisol can also interfere with brain functions like memory5 and predispose one to infections including periodontal (gum) disease.6
Stress can also lead to a dry mouth (a major risk factor for tooth decay7) as well as tooth grinding or clenching – which can cause teeth to break or wear away – creating more need to be in the dentist chair.
You’ve heard the phrase, “Laughter is the best medicine”. Allow me to show you how it helps the dental patient. Medical research has demonstrated laughter lowers cortisol8 (a hormone that rises with stress) in addition to reducing epinephrine9 (think suppressing fight or flight reactions) meanwhile stimulating systems that make us feel good.
Take an anxious dental patient about to sit for a filling, crown or surgery. A moment taken to laugh can greatly diffuse anxiety related to the imminent procedure. And it’s been proven – pre-surgical induction of laughter reduced pre-op anxiety and post-op pain10
Laughter can also improve pain tolerance. Laughter helps us recover from a stressful event11 It improves the health of the immune system12 to better help us fight infections like gum disease. It’s as if laughter is there to specifically to help us get through dental visits.
Have you ever felt an endorphin rush after a workout? If not, stop reading now this and go work out, hard. Seriously, go. Similar to exercise, laughter can act as a physical work out, releasing some of the same hormones that make us feel really good.
Another similarity is that laughter burns calories – although not as quickly as running or swimming, but the more you laugh, the more you will lose weight.
As we laugh, our organs and systems get more oxygen and become healthier – reducing the need for medications like antidepressants and blood pressure.
Laughing improves our ability to heal from illness and also to heal faster from most surgical procedures.
The list of advantages to laughter is seemingly endless.
We created a partial list below. By contrast, there are very few reasons not to laugh – and even those are subject to debate.
FIGURE 1: Sense of Humor Benefits to Dental and Overall Health
FIGURE 2: Sense of Humor Benefits to Dental and Overall Health
Put simply, Laughter lengthens and improves quality of life13 – So if you haven’t laughed yet today, get on it – you can thank (and laugh at me) later. And if your dentist doesn’t have a sense of humor, call us. We’ll put a smile on your face 😉
1 Kraft TL1, Pressman SD.Grin and bear it: the influence of manipulated facial expression on the stress response.Psychol Sci. 2012;23(11):1372-8.
2 Meyerhoff, J. L., Oleshansky, M. A., & Mougey, E. H. (1988). Psychologic stress increases plasma levels of prolactin, cortisol, and POMC-derived peptides in man. Psychosomatic Medicine, 50(3), 295-303.
3 Spencer SJ, Tilbrook A The glucocorticoid contribution to obesity. Stress. 2011 May;14(3):233-46
4 Chiodini I Clinical review: Diagnosis and treatment of subclinical hypercortisolism. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2011 May;96(5):1223-36.
5 Het S et al A meta-analytic review of the effects of acute cortisol administration on human memory Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2005 Sep;30(8):771-84
6 Buford TW, Willoughby DS Impact of DHEA(S) and cortisol on immune function in aging: a brief review. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2008 Jun;33(3):429-33
7 Bulthuis MS et al Relationship among perceived stress, xerostomia, and salivary flow rate in patients visiting a saliva clinic Clin Oral Investig. 2018 Dec;22(9):3121-3127
8 Fujisawa A et al Effect of laughter yoga on salivary cortisol and dehydroepiandrosterone among healthy university students: A randomized controlled trial.
Complement Ther Clin Pract. 2018 Aug;32:6-11
9 Savage BM et al Humor Laughter, Learning and health! A brief review Adv Physiol Educ. 2017 Sep 1;41(3):341-347
10 Kocherov S et al Medical clowns reduce pre-operative anxiety, post-operative pain and medical costs in children undergoing outpatient penile surgery: A randomised controlled trial. J Paediatr Child Health. 2016 Sep;52(9):877-81.
11 Fuliwara Y, Okamura H Hearing laughter improves the recovery process of the autonomic nervous system after a stress-loading task: a randomized controlled trial. Biopsychosoc Med. 2018 Dec 21;12:22
12 Ryu KH et al. Effects of Laughter Therapy on Immune Responses in Postpartum Women.
J Altern Complement Med.2015 Dec;21(12):781-8
13 Kuru N, Kublay G, The effect of laughter therapy on the quality of life of nursing home residents. J Clin Nurs. 2017 Nov;26(21-22):3354-3362.