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Do mouth guards help prevent concussions?

The value of having a mouth guard in preventing dental injuries has been well documented for years but does it help prevent concussions? There are three theories on how a mouth guard will prevent or reduce the chance of a concussion

  1. If there is a direct blow on the jaw as the forces travel upward they will hit the mouth guard and dissipate.
  2. There is a separation of between the jaw and its joint
  3. Neck muscles are better activated. 

A review of all of the literature found that the role that mouth guards play in preventing concussions is still inclusive1 and that most evidence is anecdotal. Because there are so many different types and fabrications of mouth guards, developing a reliable study is difficult. Once mouth guards become more socially accepted and used in soccer, the studies will become more effective in solving this question. As Dr. McCrory highlights2 in his article, the “Absence of proof is not proof of absence.”  In spite of this further need for research, at the 2011 National Athletic Trainers’ Convention, there were numerous vendors touting research on their mouth guard’s ability to reduce concussions.

So where does that leave you as a player or a parent?

From personal experience after almost losing a tooth to an opponent’s elbow, I started wearing a custom mouth guard made by my dentist. Overall, I felt as though the impact of the ball during heading was lessened when I wore the guard. Again, this is just one player’s experience. If choosing a mouth guard, I strongly urge one made by a dentist over the store bought ones. You will find it to be more comfortable and effective.  As for these new companies that promote their guards such as Under-Armour or Brain-Pad, they are trying to make a profit and until I see more independent research I would urge you to seek your dentist’s recommendation.   

In conclusion, there is a lack of firm evidence showing that mouth guards prevent concussion. This author recommends wearing a custom fit mouth guard for a reduction of injuries to the mouth and teeth and considers any possible concussion reduction effects to be an additional benefit.   

1. Knapik et al (2007). Mouthguards in Sport Activities History, Physical Properties and Injury Prevention Effectiveness. Sports Med, 37, 117-144.

2. Br J Sports Med 2001;35:81-82 doi:10.1136/bjsm.35.2.81

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