Mouthguards Can Help Improve Sports PerformanceMouthguards Can Help Improve Sports Performance

It's a pretty well-known fact that mouthguards are effective in protecting an athlete's teeth, gums and jawbone from injuries that could be caused by hard collisions or blows to the head or mouth. Because they provide a cushion between the lower and upper teeth and help absorb and dissipate force when the jaws slam together, they are usually worn during high-impact sports. In fact, all states now mandate the use of mouthguards during high school sports such as football, ice hockey, field hockey, men's lacrosse and amateur boxing.

However, studies now indicate that an oral appliance, along with keeping their teeth, gums and jawbone safe, can actually improve an athlete's performance as well. In 1978, while working with the Philadelphia Eagles football team, Dr. Stephen Smith reported that bite-adjusted mouthguards "were shown to cause an increase in muscle strength throughout the body." And a three-year study done on long distance runners who consistently used mouthguards "showed an increase in resistance ability."

Dr. Patrick Girouard, a dentist in British Columbia, Canada and a marathon runner, decided to try out the theory on himself to see if wearing a mouthguard would have any effect on the pain in his right knee. He discovered it did. "...my knees didn't bother me at all during that run. It was just mind-boggling for me." His personal experience inspired a research project that was conducted on eighty members of the men's and women's soccer and hockey teams at the University of Moncton in New Brunswick.

The general theory is that the way teeth fit together have an effect on a person's posture and center of gravity, helping improve performance while minimizing the risk of injury. Since athletes often use pain medication on a regular basis to manage the pain cause by injuries, the study was conducted "to find out how to maximize pain-free performance by an athlete's body using the guards."

For Dr. Girouard's study, the athlete's wore two different types of custom-designed mouthguards and "electrodes to track their muscular activity." Dr. Girouard reported that "...90% of them have seen a positive change in their posture and their muscular strength. There's a certain hockey player who had a lot of lower back pain. Once we fitted him with the mouthguard, his back pain went away."

Custom-designed mouthguards, which were the kind worn by the athlete's in Dr. Girouard's study, are the most comfortable, best fitting and offer better protection than mouthguards that are available in most sports stores. To custom-design a mouthguard, a dentist makes an impression of the patient's teeth, along with doing a bite registration test to ensure a comfortable, snug fit and then a mold is made and sent to a dental laboratory where the mouthguard is created.

With the well-established record of protecting an athlete's mouth, teeth, gums and jawbone from injury, along with the studies now indicating that these oral appliances can actually help reduce an athlete's pain and increase their performance, custom-designed mouthguards are becoming an important piece of equipment for serious athletes.
by Dr. Susan Wells
References and Bibliography
Dr. Susan Wells DMD has been a warrior dentist practicing dentistry in Warrior, Alabama since 1978.  She treats patients for all aspects of general dentistry including preventive dental care oral hygiene instruction and full scale exams and cleanings. To find out more visit her site at http://DrSusanWells.com.
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