There has been a growing awareness of the connection between a person’s oral health status and their general health and well-being. In 2000, then-U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher released a groundbreaking report, Oral Health in America: A Report of the U.S. Surgeon General, that addressed the role that good oral health plays in the overall health of Americans. The report noted that “safe and effective measures” already existed to prevent the most common dental/oral health diseases; however, because of the “profound and consequential” oral healthcare disparities that existed, not all Americans knew about or practiced appropriate oral health promotion measures. Not surprisingly, residents of rural communities have been among those most affected by oral healthcare disparities.
Consider the following:
- Nationally, 48 million people live in 4,048 dental Health Professional Shortage Areas (HPSAs). Ninety-four percent of all whole-county dental HPSAs and 67 percent of partial county dental HPSAs are rural U.S. counties.
- Rural adults are significantly more likely than non-rural adults to have untreated dental decay (32.6 percent compared to 25.7 percent).
- Rural residents are less likely to have dental insurance and are less likely to have access to fluorinated water supplies than their urban counterparts.
A position paper released in 2001 by the American Dental Hygienists Association highlighted these key points:
- Dental caries (cavities) are the most common chronic disease affecting 53 percent of 6-8 year olds and 84 percent of 17 year olds.
- Fourteen percent of adults aged 45-54 and 23 percent of adults aged 65-74 have severe periodontal disease.
- Research has identified periodontal disease as a risk factor for heart and lung disease; diabetes; premature, low-birth weight babies and a number of other systemic diseases. Also, routine oral health exams can uncover symptoms of diabetes, osteoporosis and low bone mass, eating disorders and HIV.
As a result of this increased awareness, a greater emphasis has been placed on improving the oral health status of Americans in the past decade. In 2003, then-U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona issued a National Call to Action to Promote Oral Health. Based on the findings of the 2000 Oral Health in America, the National Call to Action sought to expand plans, activities and programs that promoted oral health, prevented disease and reduced health disparities. Healthy People 2010 also identified oral health as one of its 28 focus areas. Given the significant impact of these health disparities, there is a need to improve the quality of, and increase access to, oral healthcare services in rural communities.
State Offices of Rural Health have a rich history of developing partnerships; creating, delivering and managing programs; and providing resources and technical assistance that help meet the healthcare needs of rural Americans. Therefore, these organizations can play an important role in addressing these challenges. At the same time, however, new rural healthcare policies and programs – and additional funding to support those policies and programs – are critical if states are expected to address these rural health issues as effectively as possible.
- Oral Health Fact Sheet and Resources
- National Network for Oral Health Access
- Rural Assistance Center Rural Oral Health Toolkit
For a full list of all available NOSORH resources, click here.