A Forbes Health and OnePoll survey has shown that social media can negatively impact confidence in one's smile, especially among Gen Z.

The team polled 2,000 American social media users. It revealed:

  • Fifty-three per cent of people compare their smiles to others on social media, and this figure is significantly higher among Gen Z (72 per cent)
  • Forty-five per cent said that social media harms their confidence in their smile, with women feeling this confidence loss more than men, 53 per cent to 35 per cent, respectively
  • Over half of those polled (56 per cent) try to hide their smile in a variety of situations, with 34 per cent hiding their teeth in photos
  • Fifteen per cent of people have edited the appearance of their teeth in a photo before posting it to social media

Jessica DiGiacinto, the lead editor at Forbes Health, commented, “Although social media can have many benefits, such as helping people keep in touch with friends or learn new skills, it can also have harmful elements, such as creating unhealthy ideas of how we should and shouldn’t look. Clinical psychologists have noted that social media can be a trigger for upward social comparison, which is the process of comparing ourselves to people we have put on pedestals and can cause us to set unrealistic expectations for how we should look, dress and behave.

“In fact, our survey shows that almost half of respondents report that social media harmed their confidence in their smile, and 27 per cent have considered using at-home aligners to change the appearance of their smile to fit what they see on social media.”

Smile comparison linked to social media use

Fifty-two per cent of respondents said they had compared their smiles to those on social media. But there was significant variation by generation, “with Gen Z coming in at 72 per cent and millennials at 66 per cent. The numbers fall for Gen X (48 per cent) and baby boomers (36 per cent).”

The researchers attributed this difference to young people spending more time on image-based social media apps.

Older generations are far less likely to use image-based platforms. Just 35 per cent of 50 to 64-year-olds and 15 per cent of over 65s use Instagram, with the numbers plummeting to 13 per cent and four per cent for Snapchat, respectively.

Editing the appearance of teeth

Fifteen per cent of survey respondents said they have edited images or videos to alter the appearance of teeth before posting on social media. Thirty-four per cent said they hide their smiles in photos.

Over a quarter of people (26 per cent) said social media pressured them to make changes, including whitening and orthodontics. Analysis based on gender revealed that this is higher among women than men (29 per cent and 23 per cent, respectively).

Gen Z and millennials seem more confident posting images showing their smile and teeth, said the researchers.

Although 32 per cent of all the participants felt self-conscious posting images of their teeth on their social channels, baby boomers and Gen X were the most self-conscious (38 per cent and 37 per cent, respectively). Just 24 per cent of Gen Z and 27 per cent of millennials felt the same unease.

Even though younger people felt more confident posting their smiles, they were also more likely to edit the appearance of their teeth (Gen Z 27 per cent and millennials 24 per cent vs Gen X 12 per cent and baby boomers four per cent). The authors said this may be because those generations are more adept at using photo editing software.

However, more than half of Gen Z (52 per cent) and millennials (56 per cent) said they would never alter their smile.

Why do people hide their smiles?

The poll showed that 40 per cent of people hide their smiles “to avoid being judged or having their smile compared to others.”

Thirty-eight per cent said they hide their smile due to low self-esteem or confidence. Twenty-seven per cent said that fearing others would not find them attractive was another reason not to smile.

Other people’s opinions also damaged the participants’ confidence in their smiles. Nineteen per cent said they had previously received negative comments about their smile.

Willingness to change their smile

The poll also asked participants if they had considered any measures to alter their smile aesthetics.

The results showed:

  • Twenty-nine per cent had considered aligners fitted at a dentist
  • Twenty-seven per cent had considered at-home aligners
  • Twenty-six per cent have considered getting braces or other orthodontic treatment via a dentist

The researchers noted that dental phobia may have influenced responses. Thirty-eight per cent of participants said they feared the dentist.

Jessica added, “If you notice that you’re feeling particularly negative while scrolling on social media, then it’s worth taking a moment to determine if certain accounts trigger negative emotions and consider unfollowing them. This will help to create a more tailored and positive experience on your social media feed.”