Almost 80% of children do not wear dental guard for school sports


ALMOST 80 per cent of Irish primary schoolchildren do not wear mouth guards when playing contact sports, putting them at risk of dental injury, new research has found.

The study of some 505 national schoolchildren in the Health Service Executive (HSE) West region was carried out by public health dentists.

The parents of the 9-13-year-old children completed a confidential questionnaire, which indicated 95 per cent of children surveyed participated in at least one sport.

More than two-thirds of children played between one and three sports, with Gaelic football, soccer and basketball the most popular.

The study, published in the current issue of the Journal of the Irish Dental Association, found overall that 22 per cent of those surveyed wore mouth guards or gumshields while engaged in sport.

Some 60 per cent of children playing rugby used mouth guards, while for hurling fewer than one in 10 did. Despite the high numbers playing basketball, just 4 per cent of participants said they wore mouth guards.

More than two-thirds of parents said none of the sports clubs their child attended had a policy on mouth guards. Significantly more boys than girls wore the protective devices; children were also more likely to wear them where the club they were attending had a mouth guard policy. According to parents, most national schools did not have a policy on their use.

Reasons for not wearing a mouth guard included cost, lack of information and the absence of a mouth guard policy in the club or school. In terms of sports-related accidents, one in 10 parents said their child had been involved in such an accident in the past year. Just over half of these accidents involved injury to teeth and some 72 per cent required treatment from a dentist within two hours of the injury.

The average cost of emergency dental treatment was €214.23.

Researchers led by Margaret O’Malley of HSE West dental services in Castlebar, Co Mayo, note that the most popular sports played by the children surveyed all involve a degree of bodily contact.

“This increases the potential for dental injury and highlights the need for dental protection”, they say, noting that while basketball is not a full contact sport, it does carry a considerable risk of dental injury.

Previous research found sports injuries accounted for almost one in four children who attended emergency services in Cork for the treatment of dental trauma.

Mouth guards have been shown to reduce the risk of dental injury by dissipating the impact of a blow evenly throughout the mouth. Individualised mouth guards fitted by a dentist provide the best protection.

The cost of a fitted gumshield ranges from €50 to €250, the authors of this latest study say.

Stock mouth guards and “boil and bite” devices are also available but these, according to the researchers, offer limited protection from sports injury.

Dr O’Malley and her colleagues welcome the high level of sports participation found in their research, noting its potential benefit in the prevention of obesity among schoolchildren.