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News / May 14, 2008

Health Research Board measures dental benefits of funded research

by Guy Hiscott

In the first Irish study of its kind, the Health Research Board (HRB) has reported an improvement in the dental care of children, among other benefits.

The study assessed the cumulative outcomes of a selection of HRB funded research projects over time to demonstrate the impact that HRB funding is having on people’s health and the Irish economy.

Top line results show that the eight projects, which received a combined total of €1.5 million HRB funding more than 10 years ago, have had a direct impact or cumulative effect that has contributed significantly to health and economic benefits in Ireland and internationally, including improvements in dental health.

Specifically, it was found the oral health services research in dentistry at University College Cork has led to development of an assay to test whether children are brushing their teeth, which will allow targeted interventions to improve dental hygiene. This should reduce the need for later dental treatment. This fuelled further research that looked at the dental health system in Ireland, which has led to more effective dental practice both countrywide and at the practice level through the development of guidelines. On the commercial side, the work has led to industry collaboration with Wrigley and Unilever, looking at the relationship between saliva and dental health.

Launching the report, Minister Harney said: ‘There is a growing demand for the public sector to demonstrate the outcomes of their work in terms of impact and value for money. Funding research is a long-term investment and it takes time before you see the return on that investment – in this case, the results speak for themselves.’

According to Dr Mairéad O Driscoll, director of research funding and strategy at the HRB: ‘Research is the unseen force behind many improvements in healthcare and often the outcomes are taken for granted. In order to demonstrate these outcomes, we need to develop better frameworks to systematically assess the impact that publicly funded research is having on society in the long and short term. The cumulative effect of €1.5 million for eight projects is impressive.

‘The HRB currently has €180 million invested in health research across the system and we look forward to building on the approach taken in this study to show the very real difference this investment is making to healthcare and the economy’.