Economic evaluation of preventive dental programs: what can they tell us?


Mike Morgan, Melbourne Dental School, Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry & Health Sciences, The University of Melbourne, 720 Swanston Street, Vic. 3010, Australia

Tel.: 61 03 9341 1546/1544

Fax: 61 03 9341 1599



The role of public health program planners is to determine the effectiveness of public health programs, what recommendations should be made, what future initiatives should be taken, and what policies should be developed. At a basic level, to choose between competing alternatives, two characteristics of an intervention must be considered; these are its outcome and its cost. Based on cost and outcome, planners must select the option that offers the most advantages. Economic evaluation is commonly adopted by decision makers in the health sector to investigate the effectiveness of public health programs and to help plan future initiatives. Economic evaluation assists decision makers who must weigh the information it provides in the context of many and often competing options. In this way, an economic evaluation is an aid to decision making rather than the decision itself. Economic evaluation is becoming essential for informed decision making, with potential implications for public health policy and practice and for clinical practice too. While economic evaluations are commonly used in decision-making processes about health programs, few examples exist in the oral health literature. In the case of preventive oral health programs, economic analysis is often difficult, largely because it makes demands on epidemiological and demographic data that are hard to meet. This study will address the concepts and tools required to conduct economic evaluations of prevention programs. The emphasis will be on oral health and preventive dental programs, although the concepts presented could be useful for other public health programs by practitioners and managers with the aim of producing effective and efficient oral health programs.