Barriers to care limit or prevent people from receiving adequate health care. In the case of dental care, the most common barriers are financial hardship, geographic location, pressing health needs and poor oral health literacy. Language, education, cultural and ethnic barriers may compound the problem. In many cases, multiple issues are involved. To access the necessary care for their dental needs, patients may require transportation, oral health education and/or financial assistance.

Barriers to care can leave patients with serious conditions that threaten their overall systemic health and quality of life. As of September 30, 2019, there were 6,782 Dental Health Professional Shortage Areas (HPSA). It would take 9,951 additional practitioners to meet every HPSA community's need for dental providers (a population to practitioner ratio of 5,000:1).

Click the thumbnail on the right to view the full infographic.

ASDA Policy

The 2018 ASDA House of Delegates adopted new barriers to care policies. Delegates agreed dental students should be involved in the reduction of barriers to care and that evidence-based measures to should be employed:

  • H-1 Student Involvement to Address Barriers to Care: The American Student Dental Association encourages the participation of interested dental students in efforts to impact the oral health of the public through projects, education, internships, externships and outreach to underserved populations.
  • H-2 Evidence-Based Solutions for Barriers to Care: The American Student Dental Association supports evidence-based measures that are efficacious and sustainable in reducing barriers to care in underserved communities. These measures include, but are not limited to, early intervention, Medicaid expansion and co-location of health services.
The ASDA House of Delegates previously adopted a resolution to help define the barriers to care issue. Delegates agreed that "barriers to care" be used rather than "access to care."

ASDA does not support the use of midlevel providers to solve the barriers to care issue. Check out ASDA’s PowerPoint outlining ASDA’s supported solutions to barriers to care.

What Has ASDA Done?


  • Since July 2019, nearly 1,000 letters have been sent to members of Congress in support of the Ensuring Lasting Smiles Act (ELSA), which ensures children suffering from congenital anomalies and birth defects are able to receive the treatment they need.
  • In April 2019, nearly 500 dental students attended the ADA Dentist and Student Lobby Day in Washington, meet with lawmakers and speak in support of ELSA.
  • In 2018, due in part to ASDA's efforts of sending more than 600 letters to Congress, the Action for Dental Health Act passed into law. 
    • This law allows organizations to provide dental services to underserved populations through health grants administered by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
ASDA members are very active in supporting initiatives that address barriers to care. Many chapters are involved in projects like Give Kids a Smile and Missions of Mercy, which provide dental care to patients who may otherwise go untreated.

Read about ASDA members’ perspective on barriers to care in the following articles:

ASDA is committed to ensuring you have the most up-to-date information on barriers to care. Read ASDA’s Advocacy Brief to stay on top of legislation that attempts to address barriers to care.