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 implementing a dental clinic model have faced barriers to recruiting a dentist. Some programs
work with volunteer or retired dentists, dental students, or other allied health professionals.
In rural communities, the priority population served by an oral health program 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 — for example, they often cannot provide root canals or, surgeries. Programs
that employ mobile dental units often partner with dental clinics to refer patients who need more extensive
Rural oral health programs may have start-up costs that exceed the revenue the program can generate. Programs
should develop financial and sustainability
Several existing rural oral health programs provide services to 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).