Oral health is an essential component of general health and well-being, yet dental access barriers 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 seven dental conditions associated with ICD-9-CM codes. During the 6-week study period patients over 12 months in 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 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 to those with no insurance or health insurance only.
Oral health disease and unmet dental needs are substantial as they present in one rural primary care practice across the lifespan. Primary care settings may present opportune environments for reaching patients who are unable to obtain regular dental care.