An oral health needs assessment gathers reliable information representative of the unmet needs within the community. Identifying the gap between the demand for care and existing capacity to deliver it provides a foundation for starting and moving forward. A well-documented needs assessment becomes the baseline against which progress is measured. In addition, this assessment may identify existing barriers and challenges to accessing care, while taking note of potential resources, including the current capacity of existing oral health care delivery systems in the public and private sectors to provide increased access to care. Knowing whether existing resources have room for growth is important. The ideal solution may not be creating a new clinic, if augmenting current options will suffice. Appreciating the importance of case management and patient navigation is something that oral health enthusiasts can learn from our medical colleagues.
Assessing need is a function of community values. Two communities may look at similar information and make different decisions about how to address the question at hand. Nevertheless, you have to gather information for a decision to be made. How much information is enough? In some communities, the initial information you already have in hand may be enough. In others, a more in-depth analysis is required. A needs assessment is often a prerequisite when applying for federal, state, or foundation funding. Often a community can get financial support from government entities to pay for the needs assessment, as the information gathered would be useful for all parties.