Transportation barriers and use of dental services among Medicaid-insured adults

S. C. McKernan, J. C. Reynolds, A. Ingleshwar, M. Pooley, R. A. Kuthy, P. C. Damiano

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


This study explores how travel distance and other transportation barriers are associated with dental utilization in a Medicaid expansion population. We analyzed data from the Iowa Dental Wellness Plan (DWP), which provides comprehensive dental benefits for low-income adults aged 19 to 64 y as part of Iowa’s Medicaid expansion. Transportation and geographical characteristics were evaluated as enabling factors within the framework of Andersen’s behavioral model of health services use. In March 2015, a random sample of DWP members (n = 4,800) was surveyed; adjusted survey response rate was 30% (n = 1,258). The questionnaire was based on the Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (CAHPS) Dental Plan Survey and assessed need for dental care, use of dental services and transportation to visits, and self-perceived oral health status. Respondent and dentist addresses were geocoded and used to calculate distance to the nearest DWP general dentist. A logistic regression model predicting utilization of dental care was developed using variables representing each domain of the behavioral model. Most respondents (57%) reported a dental visit since enrolling. Overall, 11% of respondents reported unmet dental need due to transportation problems. Median distance to the nearest general dentist was 1.5 miles. In the adjusted model, travel distance was not significantly associated with the likelihood of dental utilization. However, other transportation-related issues were significantly associated with utilization, including concern about cost of transportation and driver/passenger status. As concern about transportation cost increased, likelihood of having a dental visit decreased. Targeted approaches to assisting low-income populations with transportation barriers should be considered in designing policies and interventions to improve access to dental care. Knowledge Transfer Statement: The results of this study can be used by policy makers and public health planners when designing programs and interventions to improve access to dental care. Consideration of transportation availability and costs could improve utilization of routine dental care, especially among lowincome populations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)101-108
Number of pages8
JournalJDR Clinical and Translational Research
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2018
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© International & American Associations for Dental Research 2017.


  • Dental insurance
  • Geography
  • Health services accessibility
  • Patient protection and affordable care act
  • Spatial analysis
  • Surveys and questionnaires


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