Older adults who have social connections are more likely to have teeth than adults who live in social isolation, according to new research.
The study involved looking at older Chinese adults and was led by researchers from NYU Rory Meyers College of Nursing. The findings were published in ‘Community Dentistry and Oral Epidemiology’. “Our study shows that maintaining and improving social interactions may benefit older adults’ oral health,” said Jiang Qi, a PhD student at NYU Meyers and first author of the study. “The findings align with previous studies showing that structural indicators of social disconnection can have powerful effects on indicators of health and well-being,” he said.
Social isolation and loneliness among older adults have been major public health concerns worldwide and are risk factors for heart disease, mental health disorders, cognitive decline and premature death. In some countries, including the United States and China, one in three older adults was single, according to the World Health Organization. The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated these issues among older adults, as many personal interactions were disrupted to protect older adults from infection.
Social isolation and loneliness are related but different. Social isolation is defined as having few social connections or scarce social interaction with others, while loneliness refers to the feeling of lack of social connection.
Professor Bei Wu, Dean in Global Health at NYU, said, “While social isolation and loneliness often go hand in hand, it is possible to be alone and socially isolated, but not to feel lonely, or to be surrounded by people.” , but still feeling lonely.” Meyers and senior author of the study.
Older adults are also at risk for another health concern: losing teeth. In China, older adults aged 65 to 74 had on average fewer than 23 teeth (adults usually have 32 teeth, or 28 if wisdom teeth have been removed) and 4.5 percent of this age group lost all their teeth. were given. Gum disease, smoking, lack of dental care and chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease increase the risk of tooth loss. Missing teeth can have a significant impact on one’s quality of life, affecting nutrition, speech and self-esteem.
To understand the relationship between social isolation, loneliness, and tooth loss among older adults in China, researchers used the Chinese Longitudinal Healthy Longevity Survey to analyze data from 4,268 adults aged 65 years and older. Participants completed surveys at three different time points (2011-12, 2014, and 2018), which captured measures of social isolation and loneliness, how many teeth people had and had lost in the 7-year study , and other factors. More than a quarter (27.5 percent) of the study participants were socially isolated, and 26.5 percent reported feeling lonely.
The researchers found that despite controlling for other factors such as oral hygiene, health status, smoking and drinking, and loneliness, higher levels of social isolation were associated with having fewer teeth and losing teeth more quickly over time. Older adults who were socially isolated had an average of 2.1 fewer natural teeth and 1.4 times the rate of losing their teeth than those with strong social ties.
Wu said, “Socially isolated older adults tend to be less engaged in social and health-promoting behaviors such as physical activity, which can have a negative impact on their overall functioning and oral hygiene, as well as leading to systemic inflammation.” may increase their risk.” “This functional impairment appears to be a major pathway linking social isolation to tooth loss.”
Surprisingly, loneliness was associated neither with the number of teeth remaining nor with the rate of tooth loss.
Qi said, “While social isolation can lead to a lack of support that can affect health behaviors, for older adults who feel lonely, it is possible that their social networks still exist and that they may be encouraged to engage in healthy behaviors.” can help sustain.”
The findings highlighted the importance of developing interventions to reduce social isolation.