This article describes the essential components of oral health information systems for the analysis of trends in oral disease and the evaluation of oral health programmes at the country, regional and global levels. Standard methodology for the collection of epidemiological data on oral health has been designed by WHO and used by countries worldwide for the surveillance of oral disease and health. Global, regional and national oral health databanks have highlighted the changing patterns of oral disease which primarily reflect changing risk profiles and the implementation of oral health programmes oriented towards disease prevention and health promotion. The WHO Oral Health Country/Area Profile Programme (CAPP) provides data on oral health from countries, as well as programme experiences and ideas targeted to oral health professionals, policy-makers, health planners, researchers and the general public. WHO has developed global and regional oral health databanks for surveillance, and international projects have designed oral health indicators for use in oral health information systems for assessing the quality of oral health care and surveillance systems. Modern oral health information systems are being developed within the framework of the WHO STEPwise approach to surveillance of noncommunicable, chronic disease, and data stored in the WHO Global InfoBase may allow advanced health systems research. Sound knowledge about progress made in prevention of oral and chronic disease and in health promotion may assist countries to implement effective public health programmes to the benefit of the poor and disadvantaged population groups worldwide.