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Rural dental health care and the workforce challenges

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To the Editor: Rural Australians have poorer oral health than metropolitan Australians,1 and this oral health gap is not decreasing.2 Possible reasons for poor oral health among rurally located people are that they tend to be of lower socioeconomic status,3 which is known to be linked with a marked inequality in oral health,4 and that rural people have a different concept of health,5 which may influence their use of health services.

Another reason that has been suggested for poor oral health among rural people is poor access to dental care due to an inequitable geographic distribution of the dental workforce,6 with progressively fewer dentists as remoteness from major cities increases. It is not surprising, then, that dentists practising in non-capital city areas have been supplying more patient visits per year, and were more likely to be busier than they would like to be, compared with dentists in capital cities.7

Since 2005, four new dental schools have opened in Australia, at Griffith, La Trobe, James Cook and Charles Sturt universities; many of the existing dental schools have increased their student numbers; and there has been a large increase in the number of dentists…