Safety-net dental clinics: A viable model for access to dental care

Gayle R. Byck*, Judith A. Cooksey, Hollis Russinof

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


Background. Federal policy supports and funds community-based clinics to provide health care to low-income and underserved groups. This study examines the role of community dental safety-net clinics in providing dental care for these populations. Methods. The authors administered a cross-sectional survey of all identified safety-net dental clinics in Illinois. Seventy-one of 94 clinics responded (response rate, 76 percent), describing their history, operations, patients, staffing and dentist relationships. An in-depth analysis of 57 clinics presents comparisons of three categories of clinics, sponsored by community health centers (23), local health departments (21) and private service agencies (13). Results. Clinics were distributed across the state; 80 percent were located in facilities with other health care providers, and all provided dental care to low-income and other underserved groups. Clinics provided more than 3,100 annual dental visits, operated with limited staffing and budgets, and had referral relationships with local dentists. Clinics with full-time dentists or any dental hygienists had higher annual numbers of dental visits. Conclusions. These clinics provide dental care to groups with traditional access barriers. Although they represent a small portion of all dental care, their mission and role make them a key component of strategies to address the dental access problem. Practice Implications. Local and state dental practitioners and coalitions seeking to expand dental access should consider their community dental safety-net clinics as partners. Efforts to expand these clinics should include considering optimizing staffing for better dental productivity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1013-1021
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of the American Dental Association
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2005


  • Access to dental care
  • Safety-net dental clinics
  • Survey research

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Dentistry(all)


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