Overlooked dental needs in rural America

Dental health has long been one of the more overlooked aspects of healthcare in America and not having proper coverage is a big reason why. People who usually take a proactive approach to their healthcare will often overlook dental care because of the cost involved and the lack of available insurance. Having dental insurance greatly decreases the cost of dental visits and procedures necessary for proper care. When the cost of dental visits, no dental insurance and a lack of available dentists combine, problems arise. This is exactly what is happening in rural communities across America today.

The problem

The National Rural Health Association indicates there is a serious disparity between access to oral healthcare in rural America and access to dental care in metropolitan communities. According to the most recently available statistics from the NRHA:

  • The dentist-to-population ratio is much lower in rural areas, with 29 dentists per 100,000 people compared to 62 dentists per 100,000 people in metropolitan areas.
  • People living in rural areas are twice as likely to lose all of their teeth than those living in urban areas.
  • Around 33 percent of rural adults are likely to have untreated tooth decay, compared to 26 percent of non-rural adults.
  • Rural adults are far less likely than those living in urban areas to have dental insurance.
  • 74 percent of Dental Health Professions Shortage Areas are rural.

With statistics like these, it’s clear there’s a problem facing people living in rural areas who are concerned about their oral health.

Why people overlook dental care

The government estimates there are more than 4,500 regions, mostly rural, where 3,000 residents –close to 70 percent of the population – must share one dentist. Many residents have to go without being seen, simply because there is not time for them to be seen by a dental professional.

A lack of insurance is another problem. Rural communities have fewer large employers who can offer benefits-packed insurance programs. As a result, more rural residents do not have insurance coverage for their dental needs. As such, many residents must pay out of pocket for their care. Families who are struggling financially are therefore forced to go without care.

What is being done

Under the Affordable Care Act, dental care is defined as an essential part of healthcare for children. This is one step in the right direction; rural children will now have coverage for their dental care. The new law also provides financial incentives for dentists who are willing to move to underserved locations.

Although the new healthcare law currently provides no coverage for adults, children will be able to see dentists on a more regular basis and ensure the future of their dental health.  Adults are more likely than children to need expensive procedures like root canals, especially if they are working to erase the effects of poor dental care during their younger years. Ideally, the passage of the Affordable Care Act will be an effective tool in ending the disparity of dental care availability between rural and urban communities.

Cameron Tyler

Cameron Tyler

Cameron Tyler

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