Background: Many poor, medically disabled and geographically isolated populations have difficulty accessing private-sector dental care and are considered underserved. To address this problem, public- and voluntary-sector organizations have established clinics and provide care to the underserved. Collectively, these clinics are known as "the dental safety net." The authors describe the dental safety net in Connecticut and examine the capacity and efficiency of this system to provide care to the noninstitutionalized underserved population of the state.
Methods: The authors describe Connecticut's dental safety net in terms of dentists, allied health staff members, operatories, patient visits and patients treated per dentist per year. The authors compare the productivity of safety-net dentists with that of private practitioners. They also estimate the capacity of the safety net to treat people enrolled in Medicaid and the State Children's Health Insurance Program.
Results: The safety net is made up of dental clinics in community health centers, hospitals, the dental school and public schools. One hundred eleven dentists, 38 hygienists and 95 dental assistants staff the clinics. Safety-net dentists have fewer patient visits and patients than do private practitioners. The Connecticut safety-net system has the capacity to treat about 28.2 percent of publicly insured patients.
Conclusions: The dental safety net is an important community resource, and greater use of allied dental personnel could substantially improve the capacity of the system to care for the poor and other underserved populations.