Objectives: There is considerable variation in dental services utilization across Appalachian counties, and a plausible explanation is that individuals in some geographical areas do not utilize dental care due to dental workforce shortage. We conducted an ecological study on dental workforce availability and dental services utilization in Appalachia. Methods: We derived county-level (n = 364) data on demographic and socioeconomic characteristics and dental services utilization in Appalachia from the 2010 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) using person-level data. We obtained county-level dental workforce availability and physician-to-population ratio estimates from Area Health Resources File and linked them to the county-level BRFSS data. The dependent variable was the proportion using dental services within the last year in each county (ranging from 16.6% to 91.0%). We described the association between dental workforce availability and dental services utilization using ordinary least squares regression and spatial regression techniques. Spatial analyses consisted of bivariate local indicators of spatial association (LISA) and geographically weighted regression (GWR). Results: Bivariate LISA showed that counties in the central and southern Appalachian regions had significant (P < 0.05) low–low spatial clusters (low dental workforce availability, low percent dental services utilization). GWR revealed considerable local variations in the association between dental utilization and dental workforce availability. In the multivariate GWR models, 8.5% (t-statistics > 1.96) and 13.45% (t-statistics > 1.96) of counties showed positive and statistically significant relationships between the dental services utilization and workforce availability of dentists and dental hygienists, respectively. Conclusions: Dental workforce availability was associated with dental services utilization in the Appalachian region; however, this association was not statistically significant in all counties. The findings suggest that program and policy efforts to improve dental services utilization need to focus on factors other than increasing the dental workforce availability for many counties in Appalachia.
- dental services utilization
- dental workforce availability
- geographical disparity