Rural residents have poorer oral health and more limited access to dental services than their city counterparts. In rural communities, health care professionals often work in an extended capacity due to the needs of the community and health workforce shortages in these areas. Improved links and greater collaboration between resident rural primary care and dental practitioners could help improve oral health service provision such that interventions are both timely, effective and lead to appropriate follow-up and referral. This study examined the impact oral health problems had on primary health care providers; how primary care networks could be more effectively utilised to improve the provision of oral health services to rural communities; and identified strategies that could be implemented to improve oral health.
Case studies of 14 rural communities across three Australian states. Between 2013 and 2016, 105 primary and 12 dental care providers were recruited and interviewed. Qualitative data were analysed in Nvivo 10 using thematic analysis. Quantitative data were subject to descriptive analysis using SPSSv20.
Rural residents presented to primary care providers with a range of oral health problems from "everyday" to "10 per month". Management by primary care providers commonly included short-term pain relief, antibiotics, and advice that the patient see a dentist. The communication between non-dental primary care providers and visiting or regional dental practitioners was limited. Participants described a range of strategies that could contribute to better oral health and oral health oral services in their communities.
Rural oral health could be improved by building oral health capacity of non-dental care providers; investing in oral health promotion and prevention activities; introducing more flexible service delivery practices to meet the dental needs of both public and private patients; and establishing more effective communication and referral pathways between rural primary and visiting/regional dental care providers.