Objectives: To document the effects of compulsory mouthguard wearing on rugby related dental injury claims made to ACC, the administrator of New Zealand's accident compensation scheme.
Methods: An ecological study was conducted. Estimates of mouthguard wearing rates were available from prospective studies conducted in 1993, 2002, and 2003. Rugby related dental injury claims were available for the period 1995-2003. Player numbers were available from 1998. Mouthguard wearing was made compulsory during match play for rugby players at under 19 level and below at the beginning of the 1997 season, and for all grades of domestic rugby at the beginning of the 1998 season. Greater powers of enforcement were provided to referees at the beginning of the 2003 season.
Results: The self reported rate of mouthguard use was 67% of player-weeks in 1993 and 93% in 2003. A total of 2644 claims was reported in 1995. There was a 43% (90% confidence interval 39% to 46%) reduction in dental claims from 1995 to 2003. On the reasonable assumption that the number of players and player-matches remained constant throughout the study period, the relative rate of injury claims for non-wearers versus wearers was 4.6 (90% confidence interval 3.8 to 5.6). The cumulative savings in claim costs compared with the cost per year if claim numbers had remained constant from 1995 is 1.87 million NZD.
Conclusion: Although ecological studies have acknowledged weaknesses, the findings provide evidence that mouthguard use is a simple and effective injury prevention strategy for rugby players. The use of mouthguards for all players in both matches and contact practice situations is strongly recommended.