Skip to main content
Rural Health Information Hub

The State of Oral Health in Rural America

Despite developments in oral health knowledge and practice, disparities still exist in rural communities. These disparities are evident in oral health access, utilization, and health outcomes within rural America. Data from the 2019 National Health Interview Survey show that urban adults (66.7%) were more likely than rural adults (57.6%) to have had a dental visit in the previous year. Additionally, there are fewer dentists in rural areas than urban, and rural residents are less likely than urban residents to have dental insurance.

To address these disparities, rural communities are developing oral health programs that are responsive to the specific needs of their populations. Rural oral health programs are designed to:

  • Increase access to oral healthcare
  • Provide oral healthcare services
  • Increase utilization of services
  • Improve oral health outcomes
  • Improve oral health literacy
  • Reduce barriers to accessing care
  • Raise awareness about oral health
  • Adapt and implement promising and evidence-based approaches
  • Build networks of oral health partners in communities

For more information on rural oral health, visit RHIhub's Oral Health in Rural Communities Topic Guide.

Resources to Learn More

Improving Access to Oral Health Care for Vulnerable and Underserved Populations
Reports on the inadequate access to oral health services in the U.S. and recommends approaches for public and private entities in their efforts to contend with economic, geographic, and cultural barriers preventing access to quality oral healthcare.
Organization(s): Institute of Medicine, National Research Council
Date: 2011

Improving Oral Health Care Services in Rural America: Policy Brief and Recommendations
Offers background information on rural oral health disparities, the association between oral health and overall health, barriers to oral care, and approaches to improve oral health outcomes including federal efforts. Presents recommendations to the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services supporting improvements in rural oral health status and reductions in oral health disparities on a national, state, and local level.
Organization(s): National Advisory Committee on Rural Health and Human Services
Date: 12/2018

Oral Health in America: Advances and Challenges
Provides an overview of oral health status and oral healthcare in the U.S. Discusses oral health disparities and the impact of social determinants on oral health. Includes information on rural oral health disparities and access to care in rural areas.
Organization(s): National Institutes of Health
Date: 12/2021

Oral Health in Rural America
An overview of the challenges affecting oral health in rural America, and offers an annotated list of organizations supporting rural oral health concerns.
Organization(s): National Organization of State Offices of Rural Health (NOSORH)
Date: 8/2013

What is Shortage Designation?
Defines “shortage designation” as an area, population, or facility experiencing a shortage of healthcare services. Describes the types of federal shortage designations including: Health Profession Shortage Areas (HPSAs), Medically Underserved Areas/Populations (MUAs/MUPs), Exceptional Medically Underserved Population (Exceptional MUP), and Governor's-Designated Secretary-Certified Shortage Areas for Rural Health Clinics. Identifies federal programs using each of the defined designations.
Organization(s): Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA)