Research Shows Association With Social Isolation and Accelerated Tooth Loss in Older Adults

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A study conducted by researchers at NYU Rory Meyers College of Nursing has identified a concerning association between social isolation and tooth loss in older adults, with potential implications for global health. The study, published in Community Dentistry and Oral Epidemiology, reveals that older adults who experience social isolation are not only more likely to have missing teeth but also tend to lose their teeth at a faster rate compared to their socially connected counterparts.1

Lead author Xiang Qi, a PhD student at NYU Meyers, emphasizes the importance of social connections for the oral health of older adults, stating, “Our study suggests that maintaining and improving social connections may benefit the oral health of older adults.” These findings align with previous research showing how structural indicators of social disconnection can profoundly affect overall health and well-being.2

The Study

To investigate the association between social isolation, loneliness, and tooth loss among older adults in China, the researchers analyzed data from 4,268 participants aged 65 and over using the Chinese Longitudinal Healthy Longevity Survey.1

This study looked at data collected at different times: 2011/2012, 2014, and 2018. It involved people who took part in at least two rounds of interviews. Initially, 9,765 participants were surveyed in 2011/2012, and 1125 more joined in 2014.1

Certain participants were excluded to reduce confounding factors: those under 65 years old (141 people), those without teeth at the start (3820 people), those who didn’t continue or passed away before the next interview (2383 people), and those with incomplete information on social isolation, loneliness, and tooth loss at the beginning (278 people). Ultimately, the analysis focused on 4,268 participants who contributed 10,479 observations throughout the study.1

The Results

The study found that higher levels of social isolation were associated with having fewer teeth and a faster rate of tooth loss over time, even after accounting for factors like oral hygiene, health status, smoking, alcohol consumption, and loneliness. Specifically, on average, socially isolated older adults had 2.1 fewer natural teeth and a 1.4 times higher rate of tooth loss compared to those with stronger social ties.1

Surprisingly, loneliness did not show a significant association with the number of remaining teeth or the rate of tooth loss. This suggests that for older adults who feel lonely, their social networks may still provide support to maintain healthy behaviors.1


Social isolation and loneliness among older adults is a growing public health concern worldwide, linked to various issues such as heart disease, mental health disorders, cognitive decline, and even premature death. According to the World Health Organization, up to one in three older adults in countries like the United States and China report feeling lonely.1

In addition to social isolation and loneliness, older adults face another significant health concern: tooth loss. In China, for example, adults aged 65 to 74 typically have fewer than 23 teeth on average, with 4.5% of this age group having lost all their teeth.1

These findings extend beyond China, as social isolation and tooth loss are global issues. They underscore the urgent need for interventions aimed at reducing social isolation among older adults. Potential programs could focus on fostering intergenerational support within families and enhancing peer and community connections to improve the overall well-being and oral health of older populations worldwide.1

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  1. Qi, X., Pei, Y., Wang, K., et al. Social Isolation, Loneliness and Accelerated Tooth Loss Among Chinese Older Adults: A Longitudinal Study. Community Dentistry and Oral Epidemiology. 2023; 51(2): 201-210.
  2. New York University. (2022, January 20). Social Isolation Among Older Adults Linked to Having Fewer Teeth. ScienceDaily.