So sometimes I just have to sit back and think: hummm. I don’t do it very often, but sometimes I get sucked in. I was listening to TALK RADIO this a.m., trying to figure out how traffic was moving on Interstate 85 South. Of course, after 10 minutes of commercials and weather, the information about traffic was NOT helpful.
As I was listening to the radio, there was a two-minute news brief headlining concussions in sports. What a great topic I thought. After all, this is football season. GO DAWGS! I heard them speak about helmets. Evidently the foam in the helmets is inadequate to significantly reduce the risk of a concussion, according to their expert. There is a NEW “Air XP” helmet that can absorb 23-28% more impact. I must admit, that is pretty impressive.
What they didn’t mention, so I emailed the assistant producer of the radio show, was how a mouth appliance (if properly fitted) can not only prevent or lessen the impact of cuts and other trauma to the lips, cheeks, gums, tongue and mouth, but perhaps less obvious is the role a mouth guard can play in preventing concussions. Reports of concussive injuries – or at least the emphasis on them – have recently increased largely due to the publicity generated by the media discussions of professional football players and the “post-concussion syndrome” (permanent brain damage resulting from multiple concussions). Some estimates say that up to 40% of all retired NFL players may suffer from the syndrome to some extent
I am excited that the NCAA mandated the use of mouthguards for five amateur sports: boxing, football, ice hockey, men’s lacrosse and women’s field hockey. I’m curious why other sports aren’t mandated though.
But which mouth guard is the right mouth guard? Generally speaking, there are two categories of sports mouth guards: over-the-counter and custom-made. There are several varieties in each category but the biggest difference is in fit, performance, comfort and cost. As might be expected, the over-the-counter type is the least expensive and the quickest to obtain. But fit is questionable and performance is limited. Custom-made mouth guards obtained from a dentist are usually more comfortable and offer the best protection because the fit is “tailor-made”. Dental mouth guards are more expensive than OTC mouth guards – but are less expensive than medical or dental treatment made necessary by a sports injury.
The best mouth guard is the one that is worn consistently by the athlete, fits properly (even with orthodontic appliances), and does not interfere with breathing or speaking or athletic performance. Mouth guards dangling from a helmet strap or stored in a locker or kept in a gym bag have not proven to be valuable in reducing injuries.