Still Searching: Meeting Oral Health Needs in Rural Settings

Published 11/14/2023

Rural populations have worse oral health care access, utilization, and outcomes in comparison with their urban and suburban counterparts, according to a research report by CareQuest Institute. 

Key findings reveal several oral health disparities for rural residents, including: 

  • 34% of individuals living in a rural environment rate their oral health as fair or poor, compared with 27% of urban residents and 24% of suburban residents.  
  • Four in 10 adults living in rural environments (40%) have not visited the dentist in more than one year, compared with 35% of urban and 30% of suburban residents. A contributing factor is that 67% of rural areas are Dental Health Professional Shortage Areas.  
  • Just over one-third of rural residents (34%) do not have dental insurance coverage, in comparison with 29% of urban and 24% of suburban residents. Employers in rural areas are less likely to offer dental insurance than employers in more populated areas. 

The findings are based on responses to the 2023 State of Oral Health Equity in America survey, the largest nationally representative, annual survey focused exclusively on adults’ knowledge, attitudes, experiences, and behaviors related to oral health. 

In response to these disparities, report authors offer strategies to mitigate barriers to access and the consequent oral health burdens for approximately 46 million people who reside in rural areas. Those strategies include teledentistry, expanding dental coverage and the dental workforce, and medical-dental integration. 

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