What do football, hockey and mixed martial arts all have in common? Aside from overpaid professional athletes and three letter acronym leagues, it’s head trauma. Head trauma, also known as traumatic brain injuries (TBI) or concussions, has been at the forefront of a lot of sporting news recently, and with a big film on the subject coming out soon, TBI’s in connection to sports are sure to be water cooler talk for a while.
Surprisingly, even athletes that don’t play high impact sports are at risk for head injuries. Studies indicate that soccer players, through repetitive heading of the ball are at risk for TBI’s as well. Needless to say, full contact sports such as football, hockey, MMA, and of course rodeo, are at a much higher risk.  Intense training and modern equipment allow players to hit, and subsequently get hit, harder. Which, as a fan of all the sports in question, means more awesome…along with more head injuries.
Unfortunately protective gear can’t completely offset the risk involved in playing contact sports, but some measures can be taken to minimize the risk. There is a simple, inexpensive and “proven by science!” method (sounds like a snake oil pitch) to cut the occurrence of TBI’s in half. A well made mouthguard. You may have heard of a boil and bite guard, you know, the one you get at the sporting goods store, boil it for 30 seconds – bite down, and voila! you have a mouthguard. Those of course are infinitely better than no mouth guard, but one study set out to find out if they’re good enough. A group of high school football players were given either a custom mouthguard made by a dentist, or a regular “boil-and-bite” guard. The young men were monitored for a full season and then the results were tallied. In the group that received the regular guards, over 8% had at least a mild TBI, while the athletes with the custom made mouthguards, only 3.5%.  That’s a reduction of over 50%.
NFL quality mouthguards are the gold standard in sports. These guards require an impression of the athletes teeth along with specialized equipment called thermoforms where, under pressure, the guard is made to fit very snuggly – eliminating free space available for movement and thereby reducing injury. The thickness of the mouthguard should also be carefully controlled to offer maximum protection without bulk. Of course this is something that needs to be professionally made so make an appointment to see your dentist before you lace ‘em up on gameday. Have a custom guard made and spare yourself the headaches.
Play hard – Be smart.
Til next time
PS: some posts will have references for those of you inclined to dig deeper into stuff. Feel free to search around and if you have something interesting to contribute, I’d love to hear about it.
 Knapik, J. J., Marshall, S. W., Lee, R. B., Darakjy, S. S., Jones, S. B., Mitchener, T. A., & Jones, B. H. (2007). Mouthguards in Sport Activities. Sports Medicine, 37(2), p.120.Issue 46, November 18; Page: 8903-8908.
 Jackson Winters, DDS n Richard DeMont, PhD, CAT(C), ATC, Role of mouthguards in reducing mild traumatic brain injury/concussion incidence in high school football athletes, May/June 2014 General Dentistry
Priyadarshani G Pawar, Mukesh M Suryawanshi, Ashishkumar K Patil, Pravin S Purnale, Fareedi Mukram Ali. “Importance of mouth guards in sports: a review”. Journal of Evolution of Medical and Dental Sciences 2013; Vol. 2, Issue 46, November 18; Page: 8903-8908.
Using Mouthguards to Reduce the Incidence and Severity of Sports-related Oral Injuries.” Journal of the American Dental Association 137.12 (2006): 1712-1720.