Concussions in sports: How mouthguards can help

9:13 PM, Oct 20, 2010   |    comments
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Concussions are back in the news now that the NFL says it will suspend players who use unwarranted helmet hits. 

But no one really knows how much force a player's head can take before he is sidelined.

The CDC estimates emergency rooms around the country see an estimated 135,000 sports related traumatic brain injuries -- including concussions -- among kids ages 5-18. And athletes who suffer a concussion are at an increased risk for another one.

Yet there is currently no tool that defines the threshold where those concussions begin and end. So after a collision, coaches and athletic trainers are left to decide on their own whether a player should return to the field.

Researchers at the Cleveland Clinic are developing an "Intelligent Mouthguard." The new mouthguard is equipped with miniature sensors similar to those found inside your Wii controller or iPhone.

The sensors measure head orientation and the velocity and acceleration at which the player's head moves -- data that is all transmitted wirelessly to a computer on the sidelines.

The resulting data can then be compared to better understand the effects of head impact on brain health.

Currently, physicians and athletic trainers make the decision if a player can return to the field. Ultimately, the Intelligent Mouthguard will be able to assist in the rapid diagnosis of an injury and alert an emergency medical team if needed.

Dr. Todd Russell is the team dentist for the Lake Erie Monsters and the Cleveland Gladiators.  He's a strong proponent of mouthguards for not only preventing dental damage, but also for limiting the effects of a concussion. 

The Macedonia dentist says the mouthguard reminds the player to keep their mouth closed. A clenched mouth tightens the neck muscles and may also help prevent the whiplash effect, he says.

An open mouth subjected to a hit to the jaw slams the jawbone into the upper skull, which could lead to a concussion. The mouthguard may lessen some of the impact.

He believes mouthguards should be mandatory in professional sports. They're already required in most high school contact sports.

He suggests parents avoid the $3 versions found in sporting goods stores and opt for the $20 "boil and bite" model that conforms to the athlete's mouth. 

A good custom mouthguard from the dentist can cost just under $100 but there are also custom designer models made by Under Armour that can run about $400.

Talk to your dentist for options.



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