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Fewer dentists and different care preferences may contribute to lower use of dental care in rural Kansas

Dentists are not inclined to practice in rural areas due to the sparse population, resulting in 40 percent more dentists in metropolitan than rural counties. Fewer dentists as well as weaker preference for oral care among residents of rural Kansas may contribute to their lower use of dental care compared with those who live in urban Kansas, concludes a new study.

R. Andrew Allison, Ph.D., of the Kansas Health Policy Authority, and Richard J. Manski, D.D.S., M.B.A., Ph.D., of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, examined dental supply, use of care, and self-reported unmet need for dental care among Kansas residents in rural counties, metropolitan counties, and counties adjacent to metropolitan counties.

They found that 75 percent of metropolitan residents visited the dentist in the past year compared with 71 percent of residents in adjacent counties and 66 percent of rural county residents. Similarly, 73 percent of metropolitan residents, 66 percent of adjacent metropolitan residents, and 61 percent of rural residents had had a dental cleaning within the past year. Finally, 95 percent of metropolitan, 93 percent of adjacent metropolitan, and 90 percent of rural residents had some natural teeth remaining.

Despite lower use of care, only 5 percent of rural residents reported unmet need for dental care compared with 8 percent of residents of metropolitan and adjacent metropolitan counties, after adjusting for demographic and dentist supply factors.

The researchers conclude that there is a potentially dynamic relationship between rural residents' preferences for dental care and dentists' decisions about where to practice. They recommend that rural educational efforts emphasize the importance of oral health.

More details are in "The supply of dentists and access to care in rural Kansas," by Drs. Allison and Manski, in the Summer 2007 Journal of Rural Health 23(3), pp. 198-206.

Reprints (AHRQ Publication No. 07-R073) are available from the AHRQ Publications Clearinghouse.


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