By Elizabeth Kuhnke

Whether you’re pursing, pinching or pouting, sneering, snarling or snapping, your mouth’s muscles are hard at work conveying myriad messages without you uttering a word. If in doubt, consider the actresses Dame Maggie Smith and Angelina Jolie. Dame Maggie’s mouth makes lips resembling a puckered prune synonymous with pride and disapproval while Jolie’s pillow-like pout conveys the promise of pleasurable possibilities.

Unless you are physically incapable of moving your mouth muscles, use them. Not only do loose, slack lips resemble a piece of uncooked liver — not a pretty picture — they make communication difficult. If you don’t have a powerful base from which to bounce vowels and consonants, project passion and pain, and articulate your thoughts, feelings, and intentions, your listener struggles to understand what you’re trying to express. When words fail you or you can’t be bothered to utter them, let your lips do the talking.

The main muscle controlling mouth movements is the orbicularis oris. Originating in the maxilla and mandible bones — your jaw — this big muscle, made up of lawyers of thin muscles, encircles the mouth and inserts directly into the lips. Recent research shows that the orbicularis oris, originally conceived as a sphincter, or circular muscle, is instead made up of four independent quadrants that meet, creating a circular appearance. Because this muscle is used for puckering the lips, it’s sometimes referred to as the kissing muscle.

Because kissing is an important part of healthy relationships and feels good, too, make a point of exercising your mouth muscles on a daily basis. In addition to making you a better kisser, facial exercises improve your looks by toning your lips and cheeks, as well as firming the jaw line and chin. Facial exercises also help reduce the appearance and slow the onset of the wrinkles that appear around the upper lip. They decrease the depth of the nasolabial folds, the creases that extend from the bottom of your nose down the side of your mouth towards your chin. Fewer lines and wrinkles and more toned lips and cheeks make you look and feel fit and fun.