Background: Unmet need for dental care is the most prevalent unmet health care need among children with special health care needs (CSHCN), even though these children are at a greater risk for dental problems. The combination of rural residence and special health care needs may leave rural CSHCN particularly vulnerable to high levels of unmet dental needs.
Objective: To examine the effects of rural residence on unmet dental need for CSHCN.
Methods: We use the nationally representative National Survey of CSHCN Needs. We performed logistic regression to estimate the independent effects of rural residence on the likelihood of having an unmet dental need, using a measure of unmet need based on professional society recommendations and a measure based on parental report.
Results: Using either of the measures, a substantial percentage of CSHCN do not receive all needed dental care. Rural CSHCN are more likely to forgo needed dental care than their urban counterparts. Our results suggest that rural CSHCN have unmet needs for dental care due to both difficulty accessing care and because their parents do not recognize a need.
Conclusion: Traditional access barriers for rural children, such as inadequate provider supply and lack of insurance, may increase unmet needs both directly and indirectly, through their effects on parents' perceptions of need. Reducing unmet needs for dental care in rural children with special needs will require addressing both access issues and parents' understanding of dental care need.