OBJECTIVE: To examine the cost-effectiveness of fluoride varnish application by medical providers when implemented within a well-child periodicity schedule for Medicaid-enrolled children. DESIGN: Cost-effectiveness was analyzed using published probabilities and costs. Input parameters included the effectiveness of fluoride varnish (35.4%) applied according to the well-child periodicity schedule up to 3 years of age at $16.00 per application, annual caries increment (14%), age-specific dental care usage rates (0.2% at 9 months to 19% at 42 months), and age-related nonhospital treatment costs ($292.00-$503.00) and hospital treatment costs ($2191.00-$2940.00). Sensitivity analysis was conducted to assess the effects for varying input parameters. SETTING: Well-child visits during primary care. PARTICIPANTS: Children aged 9 to 42 months. INTERVENTION: Application of universal fluoride varnish (fluoride varnish-all) at 9, 18, 24, and 36 months vs no intervention (fluoride varnish-none) was compared. MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: Cost per month without cavities and treatment averted during the first 42 months of life from a Medicaid payer's perspective. RESULTS: Fluoride varnish improved clinical outcomes by 1.52 cavity-free months but at a cost of $7.18 for each cavity-free month gained per child and $203 for each treatment averted. Considerable uncertainty existed for some parameters. Fluoride varnish was cost saving when dental services and nonhospital treatment costs were 1.5 to 2 times greater, respectively, than our base case estimate. CONCLUSIONS: Based on these assumptions, fluoride varnish use in the medical setting is effective in reducing early childhood caries in low-income populations but is not cost saving in the first 42 months of life. Potential total cost reductions with varying parameters suggest that evaluations using a longitudinal cohort are needed.
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