Health Policy

Four-Year Cost-Utility Analyses of Sealed and Nonsealed First Permanent Molars in Iowa Medicaid-Enrolled Children

Bhuridej, P.; Kuthy, R.A.; Flach, S.D.; Heller, K.E.; Dawson, D.V.; Kanellis, M.J.; Damiano, P.C.
2007 Fall


OBJECTIVES: Dental sealants, by their ability to prevent caries and maintain teeth in better health, have some inherent utility to individuals, programs, or society. This study assessed the four-year incremental cost utility of sealing first permanent molars of six-year-old Iowa Medicaid enrollees from a societal perspective and identified the group of teeth or children in whom sealants are most cost effective.

METHODS: Dental services for first permanent molars were assessed using claims and encounter data for a group of continuously enrolled Medicaid enrollees who turned 6 between 1996 and 1999. Previously published utilities were used to weight the different health states. The weighted sum of outcomes [Quality-Adjusted Tooth-Years (QATYs)] was the measure of effectiveness. Costs and QATYs were discounted to the time of the child's sixth birthday.

RESULTS: For all first molars, the cost of treatment associated with sealed teeth was higher but the utility was also slightly higher over the four-year period. The relative incremental cost per 0.19 QATY ratio [changing the health state from a restored tooth (utility= 0.81) to a nonrestored tooth (utility = 1)] by sealing the molar ranged from $36.7 to $83.5 per 0.19 QATY. The incremental cost/QATY ratio was lower for sealing lower utilizers and for mandibular versus maxillary molars.

CONCLUSIONS: Sealants improved overall utility of first permanent molars after four years. The four-year cost/QATY ratio of sealing the first permanent molar varied by arch and type of utilizers. Sealing first permanent molars in lower dental utilizers is the most cost-effective approach for prioritizing limited resources.