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Common Implementation Challenges

Rural oral health projects may experience implementation challenges or require mid-course corrections. Some of the challenges that existing rural oral health projects have encountered are described below.

Recruiting dental staff
Rural programs that are implementing a dental clinic model have faced barriers to recruiting a dentist. Some programs are working with volunteer or retired dentists or students.

Hard-to-reach populations
The priority population may be highly mobile, traveling to new locations throughout the year. Or, they may live in remote geographic areas that are difficult to reach. These populations may be best served by a school-based model or mobile dental services model.

Providing services in mobile units
In the mobile dental services model, rural oral health programs use mobile dental vans to provide oral health services. Dental vans are limited in the types of services they can provide (e.g., root canals, surgeries). Programs that employ mobile dental units often partner with dental clinics to refer patients who need more extensive dental care.

Start-up costs
Rural oral health programs may have start-up costs that are higher than the revenue that the program can generate.

Several existing rural oral health programs target communities with a large Hispanic or immigrant population. Such programs need to ensure that their staff understands the importance of providing services or public health education in a culturally appropriate manner. In addition, programs may need to either employ staff proficient in Spanish or other languages.

Rural oral health programs face cultural challenges related to stigma. Individuals may not want to access services from a free dental clinic because of the stigma associated with receiving “charity” care. To address this challenge, some programs provide services at hospitals or medical offices.

Additional information regarding challenges is available in the Rural Community Health Toolkit (see Common Implementation Challenges).