Why Socially Isolated People Have More Missing Teeth

It’s an unfortunate fact of life that as you age, your teeth get worn out. Some will fall out on their own, especially if there’s gum disease involved, and yet others will crack and have to be extracted by an oral surgeon. In either case you will be left with significant gaps in your mouth which can result in other medical issues.

Missing teeth also make it difficult to chew your food. Simply eating everyday foods can become not only a painful experience but a hazardous one—one that poses the threat of choking. So, what can you do about missing teeth? You can seek out expensive implants, or you can choose to invest in a set of less expensive dentures.

Says Yukon Dentistry, a denturist in Whitehorse, Yukon, the cost of dentures can very greatly, depending upon an individual patient’s needs and wants. Basic denture fees usually go something like this: partial dentures cost around $1,800; full dentures are also about $1,800; an immediate denture is around $1,900 and includes a full year checkup appointment. But keep in mind that every situation is different and so long as your denture fitting is planned ahead of time, it can be completed in as little as a single workday.

But can missing teeth be prevented even as we age? Some experts point out that those folks who become more socially isolated as they age, actually tend to not only lose more teeth, but also to suffer the ill effects of their loss.

According to a new report, researchers have discovered that older people who find themselves socially isolated for one reason or another, tend to lose their teeth more than those who enjoy lots of healthy social interaction. 

Chinese Adults

The U.S. study involved an observance of aging Chinese adults which was led by NYU Rory Meyers College of Nursing and was published in “Community Dentistry and Oral Epidemiology.” Says Xian Qi, a PhD student at NYU Meyers and who is also the study’s author, the study is evidence that maintaining and even improving social connections might benefit the overall oral health of elderly adults.

These results also jive with previous studies which demonstrate that foundational indicators of social disconnection will almost always have strong effects of an elderly person’s well-being and good health.

Overall Health Issues

Social loneliness and isolation have been considered a public health concern the world over. They are said to be major “risk factors” when it comes to mental health disorders, heart disease, cognitive decline, and even premature death. 

In certain countries, including China and the U.S., one in three elderly adults were said to be “lonely.” This stat comes directly from the World Health Organization. The recent COVID-19 pandemic only made the issue worse for older folks since in-person socialization was interrupted in order to protect them from potentially lethal infection.

Social Isolation vs. Loneliness

Social isolation and loneliness are directly related, but they are also different. Social isolation is defined as having very few social relationships and/or infrequent direct contact with other people. Loneliness is said to be the “feeling” that comes about by a lack of social connections.

Says a Dean’s Professor at Global Health at NYU Meyers, while it’s true that social isolation and loneliness often go together, it’s very possible to live by yourself and to technically be socially isolated, but at the same time, not feel lonely. Ironically, you can be surrounded by human beings and feel very lonely. 

Losing Teeth

Older adults are all too often at risk for another big health concern. That is, losing their teeth. In China in particular, elderly adults aged 65 to 74 retained fewer than 23 teeth. But here’s the kicker: socially isolated elderly adults were shown to have even fewer teeth.

On average, aging adults usually have around 32 teeth. They will have 28 on average if the wisdom teeth have been removed. But up to 4.5 percent of this age group who were socially isolated had lost all of their teeth.  

What are the reasons for such bad oral care among lonely and socially isolated older adults? Smoking, lack of dental care access, chronic illness, gum disease, heart disease, and more have led directly to their tooth loss.

Quality of Life or Lack Thereof

Missing teeth can and will have a major impact on the quality of an older person’s life. It affects speech, nutrition, and naturally, self-esteem. Researchers have discovered that higher levels of social isolation are directly associated with having fewer teeth and with losing teeth in the long term, even when factors such as oral hygiene, overall health, drinking, smoking, and loneliness were kept in control.

In the end, it was determined that everything that can be done to keep an elderly adult socially active should be done. It will not only help them keep more teeth but also with maintaining better overall health.