Study to Explore Cost-Effectiveness of School-Based Dental Programs

Dentistry Today

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The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research has awarded a five-year, $842,400 grant to health economist Shulamite Huang, PhD, a research instructor with the Department of Epidemiology and Health Promotion at the New York University (NYU) College of Dentistry, to study the cost-effectiveness of school-based cavity prevention programs. 

School-based programs to prevent cavities, which are the world’s most prevalent childhood disease, have emerged as an important way to improve children’s access to dental services. Bringing care to children at their schools rather than having them come to a dentist’s office reduces the barriers to treatment, which can include cost, fear of dentists, and parents having to take time off from work for appointments. In addition, school-based programs often are the sole source of dental care for children in underserved areas.

While research has demonstrated the importance of school-based cavity prevention programs, it has also shown significant variation between programs, and not enough is known about their cost-effectiveness. Huang’s research will evaluate how variation in the design of school-based programs and prior use of dental care impacts oral health outcomes, use and spending within Medicaid, and the overall cost-effectiveness and budget impact of school-based programs.

Huang will use oral health outcomes data from a clinical trial led by NYU Dentistry’s Richard Niederman, DMD, of two multi-site school-based cavity prevention programs as well as New York Medicaid claims data.

“This research is important for identifying cost-effective school-based cavity prevention program designs in real world settings. Our findings can inform public health officials, policymakers, and other stakeholders as to what type of programs to implement, which ultimately will reduce health disparities and improve healthcare delivery and quality,” said Huang.

The grant is a K25 Mentored Qualitative Research Development Award designed to foster health research by junior faculty with backgrounds outside of biology or medicine. This research will launch Huang’s career in oral health services research, NYU Dentistry says, integrating her experience in health economics and policy evaluation with additional training in clinical research methods and evaluation of clinical interventions. She will be mentored by Niederman and NYU Langone Health’s Heather Gold, PhD, an expert in economic evaluations of clinical and behavioral interventions.

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