As many football, hockey and rugby players know, concussions are an all-too-common part of the game. In the U.S., around 1.6 to 3.8 million sports-related concussions are reported each year, according to the British Journal of Sports Medicine. However, because not every traumatic injury to the head results in a loss of consciousness, some people may get concussions without realizing it.
Another aspect that players may not realize is that the mouth and jaw can play a big role in concussions. According to Dentistry IQ, in the majority of concussion hits, the injuring blow is received around the jaw and mouth. When that occurs, the jaw and joints get pushed back toward the skull, where the force is dissipated, causing the brain to move inside. It is this jerking acceleration and deceleration of the brain against the the skull that interrupts the brain's function.
That's where Mark Dillon, an Irish product designer, comes into play. Dillon was one of 20 finalists for the James Dyson Award, an international competition for design engineers. His innovative Mamori mouth guard combines protection of the mouth, teeth and gums with sensors that gather information about the injuring hit. Mamori, meaning "protect" in Japanese, measures velocity and force to provide a 3-D orientation on computer software that shows the direction in which the head moves. This information could then be used by medical professionals to help diagnose and treat an injured player more quickly, and with increased accuracy.
"[The mouth? guard] is right in the prime location of where these impacts actually occur," Dillon explained to Dentistry IQ.
As you may have guessed, the padding is a bit thicker than standard rubber mouth? guards typically worn in contact sports, but the added space can help absorb some of the force of impact to the mouth, chin or jaw.
"One of the biggest problems with concussion and contact sports is that the players don't want to leave," Dillon told the source. "No one wants to drop out of the Super Bowl because they have a sore head."
Dillon is hoping that his mouth? guard invention will help not only protect the mouth - which could be pivotal in the oral health of kids and adults who participate in contact sports - but also fuel the dialogue between sports dentistry and the field of neuroscience.
"Concussions are an evolving injury," Dr. Willem Meeuwisse, leader of the University of Calgary's Brain Injury Initiative, told TIME magazine. "When you look at it from the moment it occurs to hours and even days later, it tends to change. That's why, 'when in doubt, sit them out,' works."
Immediately after the head trauma, symptoms can include headaches, memory loss and slower reaction times. Later symptoms can evolve into irritability and sleep disturbances.
"About 80 percent of people improve from rest after eight to ten days," Meeuwisse told the source. "For those who are not better in ten days, they need a more thorough assessment and maybe therapy for neck problems or balance."
Though Mamori and certain mouth? guards may help protect against concussions, it is important to note that no mouth? guard has been shown to actually prevent such head traumas.
At the end of the day, after safety has been addressed, don't forget to clean your mouth? guard. If left untouched, odor-causing bacteria can accumulate on the piece and trigger halitosis. The more you wear it on the field, the more effective it will be to help protect against big injuries. Yet, without washing it, these microbes may transfer back into your mouth, and no one wants bad breath on or off the field.
To maintain good oral health for kids, stay safe, and keep smiling!