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Survey: "Inextricable link" between oral, mental health for older Americans

May 17, 2023
Results of a survey of older Americans on mental and oral health indicates a "harmful feedback loop" between poor oral health and depression/anxiety. Learn more.
Elizabeth S. Leaver, Digital content manager

Findings from a recent survey of Americans over 50 indicate an “inextricable link” between older adults’ mental and oral health, with mental health challenges contributing to a lack of oral care and then that lack of care, and its results, exacerbating feelings of depression.

Among the results of Delta Dental’s first Senior Mental and Oral Health report, conducted in April 2023, 37% of respondents indicated that tooth pain intensifies feelings of depression or hopelessness, and nearly the same percentage, 35%, said they’re likely to skip basic home care when they’re depressed.

As well, more than a quarter (27%) of those surveyed who have symptoms of anxiety and depression said they hadn’t seen a dentist for more than two years. By comparison, 42% of older adults who say they experience depression symptoms “less often” or “never” have seen their dentist within the past one to six months.

Other notable survey findings from respondents include:

  • 25% feel negatively about themselves when brushing and flossing because they don’t like the appearance of their teeth
  • 45% say they’re more likely to notice changes in their mood or mental health when experiencing dental pain or discomfort
  • 57% feel shame about their oral health and the appearance of their teeth
  • 60% worry about being negatively judged for the appearance of their teeth
  • 80% said the act of smiling can make them feel happier—including 78% of those who say they frequently experience depression

Another recent survey report by Delta Dental, the 2023 State of America’s Oral Health and Wellness, found that boomers—people born from 1946–1964—are less knowledgeable than other generations on the link between oral health and specific chronic conditions such as diabetes and dementia and noted that “increasing education among all adults, but especially among boomers, is key as these factors can be amplified with age.”

About the Author

Elizabeth S. Leaver | Digital content manager

Elizabeth S. Leaver was the digital content manager for Endeavor Business Media's dental group from 2021-2024. She has a degree in journalism from Northeastern University in Boston and many years of experience working in niche industries specializing in creating content, editing, content marketing, and publishing digital and magazine content. She lives in the Boston area.