According to a recent study of Chinese elderly adults conducted by experts at NYU Rory Meyers College of Nursing, socially isolated older individuals are more likely to have missing teeth and lose their teeth more rapidly over time than those with greater social connection.
The results have been published in the journals Community Dentistry and Oral Epidemiology.
Xiang Qi, the study’s lead author and a Ph.D. student at NYU Meyers, said that findings imply that maintaining and increasing social ties may enhance seniors’ dental health. The results are consistent with earlier research revealing that structural markers of social separation may have substantial consequences on health and well-being indices.
Social isolation and loneliness in older individuals are serious public health problems worldwide since they are risk factors for heart disease, mental health disorders, cognitive decline, and premature mortality.
According to the World Health Organization, up to one in every three older persons in several nations, including the United States and China, feel lonely.
The COVID-19 pandemic has worsened these concerns among older persons since many in-person relationships have been disrupted to protect older adults from infection.
Loneliness and Social Isolation Are Not the Same Things
Social isolation is defined objectively as having few social interactions or occasional social contact with others, while loneliness is the experience caused by a lack of social connection.
Bei Wu, Dean’s Professor in Global Health at NYU Meyers and the study’s senior author, noted:
“While social isolation and loneliness often go hand in hand, it’s possible to live alone and be socially isolated but to not feel lonely, or to be surrounded by people but still feel lonely.”
Another health issue that affects older people is tooth loss.
In China, elderly persons aged 65 to 74 have less than 23 teeth on average (adults generally have 32 teeth, or 28 if wisdom teeth have been extracted), and 4.5 percent have lost all of their teeth.
Gum disease, smoking, a lack of dental care, and chronic conditions such as diabetes and heart disease all raise the chance of tooth loss.
Missing teeth may negatively influence one’s quality of life by interfering with nutrition, communication, and self-esteem.
The researchers utilized the Chinese Longitudinal Healthy Longevity Survey to evaluate data from 4,268 persons aged 65 and higher to understand better the association between social isolation, loneliness, and tooth loss in older adults in China.
If You Lose Your Friends, You Lose Your Teeth
The subjects completed questionnaires at three different time points (2011-12, 2014, and 2018), which collected data on social isolation and loneliness, the number of teeth individuals had and lost throughout the seven-year research and other characteristics.
More than a quarter of the research participants (27.5 percent) felt socially isolated, and 26.5 percent reported feeling lonely.
Even after adjusting for other characteristics such as dental cleanliness, health status, smoking and drinking, and loneliness, the researchers discovered that greater degrees of social isolation were related to having fewer teeth and losing teeth more rapidly over time.
Older persons who were socially isolated had 2.1 fewer natural teeth and lost their teeth at 1.4 times the rate of those with better social links.
Wu noticed that socially isolated older persons are less likely to participate in social and health-promoting activities such as physical exercise, which may have a detrimental influence on their general functioning and dental hygiene and raise their risk for inflammatory responses. This functional deficit seems to be a critical relationship between social isolation and tooth loss.
Surprisingly, loneliness had no relationship with the number of remaining teeth or the pace of tooth loss.
Qi added that while social isolation may lead to a loss of support, which can impair health habits, for older persons who feel lonely, it’s conceivable that their social networks are still in existence and can help them maintain healthy behaviors.
The results, which apply to countries other than China since social isolation and tooth loss are worldwide concerns, emphasize the necessity of creating therapies to combat social isolation.
Programs might increase older individuals’ peer and social relationships in their local areas while also encouraging intergenerational support within families.
Doris’s passion for writing started to take shape in college where she was editor-in-chief of the college newspaper. Even though she ended up working in IT for more than 7 years, she’s now back to what he always enjoyed doing. With a true passion for technology, Doris mostly covers tech-related topics.