Health Policy

Factors Affecting Access to Dental Care for Seniors in Rural Iowa

Rupp, C.; Damiano, P.C.

Abstract

Objective: Rural communities face unique challenges accessing dental care services, such as provider shortages and insurance coverage. Seniors, who comprise a large proportion of the rural population, face their own unique challenges accessing dental care. Some of these challenges include lack of insurance coverage and transportation. The purpose of this research study is to investigate the following research questions: What barriers to dental care are persisting in rural Iowa communities for seniors? What roles do existing programs and resources play in alleviating the barriers seniors face with accessing dental care? 

Methods: Researchers conducted structured interviews with organizations supporting rural seniors including the members from Iowa Department of Public Health, I-Smile Silver Coordinators, and other agencies. Nine interviews were completed with fourteen people in either group or individual discussions. Audio data collected from the interviews were verbatim transcribed using Rev transcription service and analyzed in Nvivo.

Results: Providers accepting Medicaid, transportation, and lack of insurance coverage were the most cited obstacles for the elderly. I-Smile Silver and Area Agency on Aging were some of the identified existing programs helping seniors overcome barriers. Expanding I-Silver to become statewide program and increased oral health education of seniors were commonly identified ways to improve access to dental care.

Conclusion: Our interviews with community organizations indicated improving access to dental care is multifaceted and difficulties for seniors persist in our Iowa communities. Assistance in finding providers who accept Medicaid, transportation to dental clinics, and increased awareness of oral health resources would help alleviate these barriers.