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The Link Between Delayed Gratification and Dental Health

What’s the easiest way to guess someone’s ability to delay gratification? Look at their teeth!

OK, I’m exaggerating – there are plenty of reasons someone might end up with a lot of cavities, including luck of the genetic draw. But it turns out that having trouble with delayed gratification sure doesn’t help.

ToothbrushHere’s the thing about dental hygiene: it’s not very glamorous. It’s about as exciting as a root canal.

For people who are more driven by immediate rewards, that means the discipline and thinking ahead involved in daily upkeep of one’s smile can be lacking. Which ultimately means that ADHD, or not being good with delayed gratification more generally, can have adverse effects on oral health.

I’m not making this all up myself, by the way. Just ask a team of researchers in Spain who recently ran a study on this topic.

They found that children who scored lower in ability to delay gratification also fared worse on several measures of dental health. These children also ate more sugar and tended to be more impulsive. Meanwhile, children with “responsible personality traits” seemed to be on track for a lifetime of superior oral health.

The same study found that children with ADHD tended to be worse at delaying gratification, leading the researchers to suggest impaired ability to delay gratification as one potential factor connecting ADHD and poor dental health.

Although the study focused on children, I’d be surprised if adults with ADHD don’t also tend to have worse oral health for similar reasons. Keeping one’s teeth in order is exactly the kind of tedious chore with no immediate reward but real long-term consequences that ADHDers tend to neglect, until it’s too late.

When we talk about ADHD, dental hygiene isn’t usually the first topic that comes to mind. But it’s good to be aware that being resistant to delaying gratification can have implications for oral health – it means you can look for that pattern playing out in your own life and make changes that will save you a lot of trips to the dentist in the end.

So, fellow ADHDers, I know you’re prone to forgetting things, but don’t let brushing your teeth be one of them!

Image: Flickr/Tomaž Štolfa

The Link Between Delayed Gratification and Dental Health

Neil Petersen

Neil Petersen writes regularly on education, learning disabilities and technology. He received his B.A. in 2014 and was diagnosed with ADHD at the beginning of his college studies. Neil also works for a music education non-profit and hopes to help create an education system that can better serve students with ADHD.

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APA Reference
Petersen, N. (2017). The Link Between Delayed Gratification and Dental Health. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 4, 2020, from


Last updated: 13 Jun 2017
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