Palm Desert High School football players were being fit with custom mouth guards by a local dentist this weekend. Some studies are now suggesting that athletes wearing store-bought mouth guards might be twice as likely to suffer brain injuries than those who wear more protective custom guards.
“Parents aren’t aware of the option of a custom mouth guard or the importance of it,” said Chris Martello, a mother of a Palm Desert High School football player.
Many young athletes today where mouth guards for contact sports — usually the store-bought kind you boil and then form in your mouth.
“Without a mouthpiece in you can feel your teeth hitting,” said Alexander Whitley, a player on the Palm Desert football team.
Some dentists say store-bought guards do not provide adequate protection, especially for high school players with young, developing brains: “Most people think a mouthguard is to protect your teeth but it is in a way…but it’s really to protect your brain,” said Leonard Feld, DDS.
If fit properly, a mouth guard acts as a shock absorber protecting the brain and reducing the chance of concussion. “This nerve goes right to the brain. And when the jaw is hit, there’s just a little piece of cartilage that protects it,” said Feld, motioning to a model of the human skull.
Feld is offering custom-made mouth guards at his office, with a portion of all proceeds going towards concussion research for player safety in high impact sports.
“My whole life I’ve been using store bought ones and I kind of did some research and everyone says these are a lot better,” said Whitley, who was fit for a custom guard on Saturday.
Feld saw several Palm Desert players in his office at the Indian Wells Smile Center throughout the day. He says two patients that he fit for custom guards say they had prior concussions while wearing store-bought guards.
“They spend a lot of money on helmets but they’re still getting injured,” said Feld.
According to a report in the peer-reviewed clinical Journal of the Academy of General Dentistry, players with store-bought guards were “twice as likely to suffer mild traumatic brain injuries and concussions” than those wearing guards custom-made and properly fit.
“It’s kind of like having a pair of shoes that fit versus a pair of shoes that don’t fit. It’s really hard to run around if they don’t fit,” said Feld.
And studies like this are resulting in action even within the NFL: the New Orleans Saints invested in $2,000 custom guards for their players, not only to better protect them but also to improve performance by putting the jaw in the “best position to align the body.”
Feld says custom fit guards also improve stamina by maximizing a player’s ability to breathe: “When they get tired they start assuming a different position.”
Martello says her son has noticed the difference since using his new guard. “It gives them more stamina because it opens up the airway and they can get oxygen better.”
If you’d like to make an appointment for you or your child, call Feld’s office at (760) 341-2873.