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J Am Board Fam Med. 2010 Jul-Aug;23(4):514-22. doi: 10.3122/jabfm.2010.04.090080.

Unmet dental needs in rural primary care: a clinic-, community-, and practice-based research network collaborative.

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  • 1Oregon Rural Practice-based Research Network, Oregon Health and Science University, Portland, OR 97239, USA.



Oral health is an essential component of general health and well-being, yet barriers to the access of dental care and unmet needs are pronounced, particularly in rural areas. Despite associations with systemic health, few studies have assessed unmet dental needs across the lifespan as they present in primary care. This study describes the prevalence of oral health conditions and unmet dental needs among patients presenting for routine care in a rural Oregon family medicine practice.


Eight primary care clinicians were trained to conduct basic oral health screenings for 7 dental conditions associated with International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems 9-Clinical Modification codes. During the 6-week study period, patients older than 12 months of age who presented to the practice for a regularly scheduled appointment received the screening and completed a brief dental access survey.


Of 1655 eligible patients, 40.7% (n = 674) received the screening and 66.9% (n = 1108) completed the survey. Half of the patients who were screened (46.0%, n = 310) had oral health conditions detected, including partial edentulism (24.5%), dental caries (12.9%), complete edentulism (9.9%), and cracked teeth (8.9%). Twenty-eight percent of the patients reported experiencing unmet dental needs. Patients with dental insurance were significantly more likely to report better oral and general health outcomes as compared with those who had no insurance or health insurance only.


Oral health diseases and unmet dental needs presented substantially in patients with ages ranging across the lifespan from one rural primary care practice. Primary care settings may present opportune environments for reaching patients who are unable to obtain regular dental care.

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