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The State of Oral Health in Rural America

Oral health is an integral component of an individual's health and well-being. Having poor oral health is related to a range of diseases in both adults and children. The Surgeon General's report on oral health noted that:

“You cannot be healthy without oral health. Oral health and general health should not be interpreted as separate entities. Oral health is a critical component of health and must be included in the provision of healthcare and the design of community programs.”

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.

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

Resources to Learn More

Advancing Oral Health in America: Summary
Report that discusses the challenges facing the current oral health system, the connection between oral health and overall health, and how to improve oral healthcare.
Organization(s): Health and Medicine Division (HMD), National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine
Date: 2011

Improving Access to Oral Health Care for Vulnerable and Underserved Populations
Provides recommendations for both public and private entities for improving access to oral healthcare.
Organization(s): Health and Medicine Division (HMD), National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine and National Research Council
Date: 2011

Meeting Oral Health Care Needs in Rural America
This policy brief provides background information on rural oral disparities and gives recommendations for how to improve rural oral disparities on a national, state, and local level. It also includes a section on suggested dental training programs.
Organization(s): National Rural Health Association
Date: 4/2005

National Call to Action to Promote Oral Health
The Call to Action report details work done in partnership of public and private organizations to enhance oral and general health and well-being of Americans. The report specifies the actions and implementation strategies to improve oral health including the replication of effective programs, building the science base, and improving the effectiveness and abilities of the oral health workforce.
Organization(s): Office of the Surgeon General
Date: Spring 2003

Oral Health in America: A Report to the Surgeon General
This report alerts Americans to the full meaning of oral health and its importance to general health and well-being.
Organization(s): National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research
Date: 2000

Oral Health in Rural America
Provides an overview on oral health in rural America and relevant resources.
Organization(s): National Organization of State Offices of Rural Health
Date: 8/2013

Shortage Designation: Health Profession Shortage Areas & Medically Underserved Areas/Populations
This website includes information about Health Profession Shortage Areas, including dental HPSAs, and Medically Underserved Areas/Populations by County, State, and Zip code.
Organization(s): Health Resources and Services Administration

The State of Rural Oral Health: A Literature Review
Detailed literature review of rural health issues associated with the Healthy People 2010 focus area on oral health.
Authors(s): Fos, P. & Hutchison, L.
Organization(s): Rural Healthy People 2010
Date: 2003

Structural Cavities in Rural Dental Health
This article describes oral health disparities in rural areas.
Author(s): Shuford, C.
Organization(s): Daily Yonder
Date: 3/2012