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News / July 28, 2011

Mayo mouthguard research is a winner

by Guy Hiscott

A member of the HSE Dental Department in Castlebar, Co. Mayo, has been awarded the O’Mullane Prize at the annual scientific meeting of The Irish Society for Dentistry for Children for her research highlighting the importance of mouthguard use among national school children taking part in contact sports.

Margaret O’Malley, who is the oral health promoter for Mayo, undertook the research to determine the extent of dental trauma experienced by national school children who engaged in contact sports; to establish the level of mouthguard usage; and to determine the level of knowledge among parents and sports organisations in relation to the importance of mouthguards to prevent trauma to the face and teeth.

Speaking of the significance of her research, Margaret O’Malley says: ‘I found that contact sports play an important role in children’s lives yet mouthguard usage is low at just 22%. The main reason given for not using a mouthguard is that it isn’t compulsory for all contact sports. Parents, schools and sporting organisations, locally and nationally, need to be made aware of the importance of dental protection. Facial and dental trauma are serious matters and their consequences can be long term and expensive.

‘This is the first time this issue has been researched in Ireland and now the data is available to demonstrate the extent of the problem and we have the evidence to hopefully drive a change in policy in relation to the importance of mouthguards for children in contact sports.’

Margaret acknowledged the support of her colleagues in the Mayo Dental Department. In particular she thanked Dr Antonia Hewson, principal dental surgeon with the Mayo Dental Department, and Dr David Evans of the Public Health Department in Galway for their invaluable help and guidance with her research.

Some of the key findings of research, based on over 1,000 questionnaires sent to 25 different national schools in the HSE West area, which extends from Donegal to North Tipperary, include:
• 95% of pupils are engaged in sport and over two-thirds of children (67%) play between one and three sports
• 22% of pupils confirmed they wore mouthguards while playing contact sports. The number who wore mouthguards varied according to the sport – from 5% of children who played soccer to 60% of children who played rugby
• The number of sport-related facial injuries reported was 10%. Of that number, 87% of the injuries involved permanent teeth
• 68% of children reported their sports club did not have a policy on mouthguard usage
• 69% of schools do not have a policy in relation to wearing mouthguards
• 25% of parents were not aware of any school policy regarding the wear of mouthguards
• 58% of the injuries were treated by dental practitioners, while 42% went to the emergency department of the local hospital
•  The average cost of emergency dental treatment was €214.23.

With regard to recommendations for change, Margaret O’Malley suggests: ‘There are very clear steps that can be taken to increase the numbers wearing mouthguards in order to prevent unnecessary injury and loss of permanent teeth. For example, the introduction of a national policy on the compulsory wearing of mouthguards for all contact sports, which should be implemented by all sporting umbrella organisations. Also, club and school insurance policies could incentivise the compulsory wearing of mouthguards for contact sports.

‘And, most importantly, we need to raise awareness of the issue among parents, clubs and schools so that in the absence of a national policy, measures can be taken now to improve the safety of our children.’

Frank Murphy, HSE area manager for Mayo, congratulated Margaret O’Malley on her research and on winning the award. He said: ‘This is a very notable achievement and the research will be of particular interest to the many young people regularly participating in contact sports in this country along with their parents, guardians and mentors.’