Ratio of population to dentists.

The 2021 County Health Rankings used data from 2019 for this measure.

Reason for Ranking

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 February 2019, there were 5,834 Dental Health Professional Shortage Areas (HPSAs), with 58 million people total living in them.[1]

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. You can find all data files at:

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 Identification data 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 the Ratio

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

Right Side of the Ratio

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

Data Source

Years of Data Used


Area Health Resource File/National Provider Identification file

The Area Health Resource File is a collection of data from more than 50 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 Identification 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.

Digging Deeper
Age Not applicable
Gender Not applicable
Race Not applicable
Education Not applicable
Income Not applicable
Subcounty Area 0

It is difficult to stratify this measure by population demographics or locale.


[1] Health Resources and Services Administration. Shortage Designation: Health Professional Shortage Areas & Medically Underserved Areas/Populations. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; 2019.

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When it comes to developing and implementing solutions to problems that affect communities, evidence matters. The strategies below give some ideas of ways communities can harness evidence to make a difference locally. You can learn more about these and other strategies in What Works for Health, which summarizes and rates evidence for policies, programs, and systems changes.

Provide sealants, fluoride treatment, screening, and other preventive dental care on school grounds via partnerships with dental professionals

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