I’m too fat. I’m too skinny. I’d be happier if I had straighter teeth, no freckles, a smaller nose, less wrinkles, bigger boobs, longer legs, smaller butt, whiter teeth.
Any of the statements to the right sound familiar? Chances are good you have either said them or heard someone say them. In our society of media images and popular culture ideals of skinny girls and bulked-up boys, self-esteem and body image are forever linked.
This article is influenced by the challenge of balancing the dental office expectations of educating patients on smile enhancements while respecting their self-esteem and body image. I hope to begin a dialogue about trends in beauty, how we can responsibly market cosmetic services, and their effect on our patients. A more narrow focus is the self-esteem of female patients between ages six and 17. As we explore this relationship and continue as a profession to break out of traditional practice settings, we will be further connected to the populous. When we become more cognizant of the pressure young patients perceive in the realm of beauty and how they view themselves, we may be able to positively affect their well being, lives and healthy smiles.
Self-esteem: Do you have resilience?
According to the Nemours Foundation, self-esteem is how much people value themselves, the pride they feel in themselves, and how worthwhile they feel. Feeling good about yourself can affect how you act. Body image is how a person feels about his or her physical appearance. A person who believes in him or herself and has a healthy self-image is more in control of his/her behavior. In fact, www.kidshealth.org refers to this as resilience. Skill resilience is defined as “People who believe in themselves are better able to recognize mistakes, learn from them, and bounce back from disappointment.”
When teens develop their individual styles, yet still have the desire to “fit in,” television has an enormous influence. The “extreme” phenomenon that captured American viewers is still having a strong affect. Admittedly, our fascination with transforming the ugly duckling into a beautiful swan showed positive returns for many dental offices. After people witnessed the extreme smile changes on television, many decided to make appointments and ask questions about smile enhancing to learn how their smiles could be changed. Whether or not you agree with the media attention on beauty transformation or the public’s fascination with the results, it has changed the attention to dental services and the number of services dentists provide.
What is the best way to approach patients with the newest advances and technologies? Do we wait for them to ask or do we take a proactive role and plant seeds? And by planting seeds, at what age do we begin to make such smile distinctions?
According to the American Academy of Facial and Plastic Survey 2005 member survey, Trends in Facial Plastic Surgery, the latest trends seen in member offices in 2004 is an increase in teen procedures by 37 percent, and an increase in the amount of plastic surgery given as a gift, up 49 percent.
This scene is similar in dental marketing plans across the nation. What market segment are we targeting when it comes to cosmetic procedures? I have seen promotional pieces with such titles as “The Straight Scoop for Graduating” or “A Brighter Smile for the Prom.”
Some of these tactics seem like appropriate marketing avenues, yet in our desire for an increase in cosmetic procedures, is it possible that we have negatively led young adults to believe that they must look a certain way or have a perfect, white smile to fit in? Have we begun to sidestep oral disease, caries and periodontal issues, which are our obligation to assess and treat? Have we trained ourselves to spot the tiniest flaws, but forgotten the role this may play in developing people’s self worth?
A global look at beauty
“Beyond Stereotypes: Rebuilding the Foundation of Beauty Beliefs,” was a two-phase study conducted by StrategyOne. The research was commissioned by Dove®, a Unilever beauty brand, in their corporate commitment to challenge the current beliefs and media portrayals of beauty. The first component of the study was a review of the current data that deals with the socialization of beauty and its impact on self-esteem and engagement.
The second phase was a quantitative study among 3,300 girls and women in 10 countries. This 2004 study is the foundation for Dove’s recently launched advertising campaign, “Campaign for Real Beauty.” It features real women, not Hollywood models, in the advertising and outreach programs like the Dove Self-Esteem Fund (see related article).
Besides media, lots of factors play roles in affecting teen self-worth, such as family life, puberty, peers, celebrities, etc. While girlfriends and mothers of girls are the earliest and most powerful influencers, the impact of that influence is decidedly different. The study showed that a mother’s influence, which takes into account cultural and generational differences, showed a girl how to have higher appearance satisfaction and self-esteem. Yet girlfriends influence the correspondence between low appearance satisfaction and self-esteem. Finally, male hygienists should consider how they impact teen patients. The study found that male non-paternal influences powerfully influence girls’ feelings about their beauty and body image.
A disease free-smile or the condition of a smile’s esthetics will affect a patient’s self-worth, and dental professionals can uncover these issues while building self-esteem. Many teens will not share concerns about their smile, especially if they have expressed them before and have not been validated, or if it is a continued source of peer or family ridicule.
Here are some tips that will assist young patients in developing a confident self-image. First, create an atmosphere without sarcasm. Even the most unintentional banter can fail miserably. Creating an environment that is safe and nonjudgmental will allow teens to express concerns they may have with their teeth, gums or breath.
Second, as esthetic practitioners and positive influencers, use positive communication strategies. For instance, “Johnny, as part of your dental hygiene service, I will perform a smile assessment. As you know, we are in the healthy smile business, so it is my privilege to make sure that everyone who visits me is happy and confident about their gums and teeth. I perform these evaluations on all my patients.” It may take a few hygiene sessions to build trust and rapport. When the teen does share, encourage this behavior and validate the concerns. “Johnny, I appreciate you sharing with me that you are unhappy with the color of your teeth. If something could be done to minimize the yellow, would you be interested in it?”
Additional self-esteem building strategies include: