BACKGROUND: Americans are enjoying an increasing level of oral health. However, oral health improvements are not being experienced evenly across the population. The poor, some minorities, institutionalized elderly people and other groups do not have adequate access to dental care.
OVERVIEW: The author discusses the need to understand clearly the barriers to care affecting underserved populations and presents a framework for designing access-to-care programs.
CONCLUSIONS: The author concludes that access-to-care problems are complex and will not be solved easily or quickly. A complete understanding of the barriers to care being experienced by any group under consideration must be achieved, and an improvement plan must be designed to address those specific barriers considering the demand for care, the dental work force and the economic environment.
PRACTICE IMPLICATIONS: Failure to understand the barriers to care and address them adequately will result in limited success in enhancing access to dental care for underserved populations.