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Ratio of population to dentists. The 2023 County Health Rankings used data from 2021 for this measure.

Untreated dental disease can lead to serious health effects including pain, infection, and tooth loss. Although lack of sufficient providers is only one barrier to accessing oral health care, much of the country suffers from shortages. According to the Health Resources and Services Administration, as of December 2022, there were 7,313 Dental Health Professional Shortage Areas (HPSAs), with 70 million people total living in them.1

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Data and methods

Data Source

Area Health Resource File/National Provider Identifier Downloadable File

The Area Health Resource File is a collection of data from more than 60 sources, including: the American Medical Association, American Hospital Association, US Census Bureau, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, Bureau of Labor Statistics, and National Center for Health Statistics.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services maintains the National Provider Identifier (NPI) Downloadable File. This file contains information on every healthcare provider with a provider ID number. Any provider who electronically transmits health information in connection with a HIPAA standard transaction is required to have a provider ID.

Information from AHRF should be appropriately attributed through the use of the following citation: Area Health Resources Files (AHRF) 2021-2022. US Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration, Bureau of Health Workforce, Rockville, MD.

Website to download data
For more detailed methodological information

Key Measure Methods

Dentists is a ratio

Dentists is the ratio of the population to dentists. The ratio represents the population served by one dentist if the entire population of a county was distributed equally across all practicing dentists. For example, if a county has a population of 50,000 and has 20 dentists, their ratio would be: 2,500:1. The value on the right side of the ratio is always 1 or 0; 1 indicates that there is at least one dentist in the county, and zero indicates there are no registered dentists in the county.

Dentists has been corrected

We found an error in the calculation of population to provider ratios for Dentists in 2013 and 2014. We were double-counting people living in group quarters (like dorms or prisons) in each county. The correct estimates of the ratios for Dentists are available on our website and in the downloadable data files.

Some data are suppressed

A missing value is reported for counties with population greater than 4,000 and 0 dentists.

Measure limitations

Dentists are classified by county, but dentists living on the edge of counties or who practice in multiple locations may see patient populations that reside in surrounding counties. This data comes from the National Provider Identifier Downloadable File, which has some limitations. Providers who transmit electronic health records are required to obtain an identification number, but very small providers may not obtain a number. While providers have the option of deactivating their identification number, some dentists included in this list may no longer be practicing or accepting new patients.

Left side of ratio

The left side of the ratio is the total county population.

Right side of ratio

The right side of the ratio is the number of dentists in a county. Registered dentists with a National Provider Identifier are counted.

Can This Measure Be Used to Track Progress

This measure can be used to track progress. In order to better understand this estimate, confirming this data with additional sources of data at the local level is particularly valuable.

Finding More Data

Disaggregation means breaking data down into smaller, meaningful subgroups. Disaggregated data are often broken down by characteristics of people or where they live. Disaggregated data can reveal inequalities that are otherwise hidden. These data can be disaggregated by:

  • Age
  • Gender

It is difficult to stratify this measure by many population demographics or by subcounty location. However, data is available by gender and age in the Area Health Resources Files from the American Dental Association Masterfile. 


1 Bureau of Health Workforce, Health Resources and Service Administration (HRSA), US Department of Health & Human Services. Designated Health Professional Shortage Areas Statistics. First Quarter of Fiscal Year 2023 Designated HPSA Quarterly Summary. HRSA; December 31, 2022. Accessed January 11, 2023.

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