Background: Little detail is known about the geographical catchment areas covered by dental hospitals, with no previous Australian studies of this kind. The aim of this study was to assess the geographical distribution of public dental emergency patients and their socioeconomic status to define catchment zones for a dental hospital.
Methods: All patients requesting emergency dental care at the Royal Dental Hospital Melbourne, meeting the inclusion criteria, in calendar years 2006 and 2010 were included in the sample. Geographic information systems tools were used to locate and link each patient address to the socioeconomic data.
Results: For both 2006 and 2010 95% of the patients were living within 50km of the hospital. In 2006, most of the patients seeking care lived within a 15km radius of the dental hospital whilst in 2010 that distance increased somewhat. Patients from areas with similar socioeconomic status living more than 10km away from the hospital had poorer access to dental emergency treatment.
Conclusions: The hospital had a surprisingly large catchment zone that overlapped those of smaller community-based clinics.