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Comparison kills: Why Gen Z is self-conscious about their smile

June 18, 2024
Notice a uptick of Gen Z patients in your office? Thanks to social media, young people are more self-conscious about their smile than ever before.

Social media has been impacting the way we view ourselves for over a decade now. Gen Z, the first generation exposed to social media from childhood on, has been comparing their appearances to friends, celebrities, and influencers for roughly half their lives.

A Forbes Health and OnePoll survey of 2,000 U.S. social media users revealed that social media can negatively affect confidence in one's smile, particularly among the younger generation.1 On average, members of Gen Z spend almost three hours on social media every day, so it's no surprise most people born between 1997 and 2012 are insecure about their smiles, especially scrolling past gleaming pearly whites on TikTok and Instagram.2

How insecurities are changing the dental market

According to the Forbes Health and OnePoll survey:

  • 53% of people (and 72% of Gen Z) compare their teeth to others on social media

  • 45% report that social media harms their confidence, with women more affected than men (53% to 35%)

  • 56% have hidden their smile and 15% have edited their teeth in photos before posting

  • The use of photo editing tools to make smiles more appealing is more common among young people

  • 26% feel pressured to change their teeth because of social media, with younger generations feeling this pressure more acutely.

  • People are willing to spend roughly $2,960 on improving their smile

Why clear aligners and veneers are all the rage

Because of this, many patients are seeking clear dental aligners to perfect their teeth. Twenty-nine percent of survey respondents have considered going to a dentist for aligners while 27% have thought about doing them at home.1 As opposed to more traditional methods like braces, dental aligners are often more comfortable and subtle in appearance, especially in photos.

According to Sabrina Romanoff, M.D., a Harvard-trained clinical psychologist, the increased popularity of selfies has caused many social media users to hyper-fixate on perceived flaws in their appearance such as the shape of their teeth, the size of their lips, or any fine lines/wrinkles on their face.1

In addition to clear aligners, veneers are also on the rise. Sara Hahn, a graduate of the Harvard School of Dental Medicine who specializes in cosmetic dentistry, notes that some patients walk into her practice expecting the perfect "Hollywood" smile, opting for nonessential cosmetic procedures like veneers.3

Although sometimes necessary, veneers done for aesthetic purposes can have serious consequences. Every time they're redone-one set typically lasts around 15 years-a dentist must whittle away more of a perfectly healthy tooth. Over time, this can lead to nerve damage and subsequent root canals.3

Genuinely smiling

Even in the age of the "Instagram Face," social media can still be a positive, connecting force. Ultimately, users have control over who they follow, what they post, and what type of content they're exposed to. If they feel overwhelmed by negativity, they can step away for a mental health break. However, those who had positive peer interaction through giving and receiving affirmations and validation used social media to enhance their wellbeing.1

Jessica DiGiacinto, Lead Editor at Forbes Health comments : "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."

By embracing genuine smiles and fostering positive interactions online, Gen Z can cultivate a healthier relationship with their appearances.

Resources:

  1. Williams V. Social media causes 72% of Gen Z to compare their smiles to others. Forbes. Updated May 25, 2024. ttps://www.forbes.com/health/dental/social-media-impact-on-smiles/

  1. Williams V. Where is Gen Z spending time on social media? Ignite Social Media. March 12, 2024. https://www.ignitesocialmedia.com/social-media-strategy/gen-z-spending-time-social-media

  1. Dupre MH. Celebrities are permanently damaging their teeth for a "perfect smile," but it's coming back to haunt them later. Futurism. September 17, 2023. https://futurism.com/neoscope/celebrities-permanently-damaging-teeth-perfect-smile

About the Author

Sarah Butkovic

Sarah Butkovic, MA, is an Associate Editor at Endeavor Business Media, where she works on creating and editing engaging and informative content for today's leading online dentistry publications. She holds a Master's English Language and Literature from Loyola University Chicago and is passionate about producing high-quality content that educates, inspires, and connects with readers.