After completing active duty, nearly one-fourth of veterans, or about 4.7 million people, reside in rural areas. Generally, veterans are more highly concentrated in rural areas, with 8.5% residing in non-metropolitan areas versus 6.8% residing in urban areas nationally. Given that geographic barriers often exacerbate inequities in care, and that veterans with service-connected disabilities may have multiple comorbidities, it is essential to understand the challenges faced by rural veterans.
Rural veterans are less likely to visit the dentist routinely and more likely to have lost all of their natural teeth. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Office of Rural Health developed the Veterans Rural Health Resource Centers to provide additional support to veterans living in rural areas. These satellite offices were opened in Oregon, Utah, Iowa, Florida, and Vermont to assess opportunities for improving care and implementing promising practices. Each location focuses on areas of interest in veteran health, yet, to date, none focus on oral health.
Ultimately, veterans face challenges accessing consistent oral health care regardless of geographic location. However, the overlapping inequities facing rural veterans are significant.
The purpose of this report is to highlight data collected from the 2021 Veteran Oral Health Survey comparing rural and urban veterans. Key takeaways include:
- The lack of access to affordable routine dental care for rural veterans may be driving increased emergency department visits.
- Rural veterans have a higher prevalence of chronic diseases that exacerbate poor oral health. These conditions, coupled with inadequate access to dental care, likely contribute to poorer oral health outcomes in rural veterans.
- On average, rural veterans are paying higher out-of-pocket costs for dental care compared with urban veterans.