Can mouthguards really prevent concussions?

2013 12 23 15 23 25 385 Second Opinion 200

To answer the question posed in the title, to be perfectly blunt -- no, they can't. The truth is that the whole notion of mouthguards protecting your head is just that -- a notion.

Jan Akervall, MD, PhD, the inventor of the SISU Mouth Guard has been asked numerous times if a mouthguard protects against concussions.

"Preliminary laboratory studies from the '60s (Stenger 1964 and Hickey 1967) indicated decreased forces transferred to the skull and decreased intracranial pressure from impacts to the jaws when a mouthguard was in place," Akervall said." These were cadaver studies and neither Stenger nor Hickey claimed mouthguards would prevent concussions in real life. These and other small, experimental studies have been used in advertisement for mouthguards to prevent concussions and that is very unfortunate."

Sassa Akervall.Sassa Akervall.
Sassa Akervall.

Akervall continued, noting that the question of concussion protection continues to arise.

"Many of our athletes keep asking if our product protects against concussions. Being 30% to 50% stronger than conventional mouthguards made of EVA [ethylene vinyl acetate], you may think that the shock-absorbing properties of the guard would stop the forces that transfer to the brain. Unfortunately, that's not true. It's not the case for our product, and it certainly is not true for any other mouthguard," he said.

Here are the scientific facts:

The brain "floats" around inside the skull in cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). In simple terms, the fluid acts as a cushion for the brain. A concussion, or traumatic brain injury (TBI), occurs when a blow to the head causes the skull to jerk from one position to another.

When that occurs, the brain snaps in the opposite direction. The brain slams into the skull and a cascade of chemical reactions occurs. Proteins are released that cause swelling, "bruising," and inflammation.

In a car accident, the swelling can get so severe that vital functions of the brain shut down, but in sports in which forces often aren't as powerful, concussions and headaches are the most frequent outcome.

Could a mouthguard possibly protect the head from jerking during impact and the brain from snapping back? Of course not!

The U.S. Department of Defense contracted us to investigate if our mouthguard, or any mouthguard for that matter, could help soldiers protect their brains from concussions and TBI. We performed extensive testing in our laboratory and at Wayne State University's Biomechanics Lab, where the American car industry crash tests their cars and manufacturers test the most advanced football helmets. We had to report back that there is no evidence that a mouthguard can prevent concussions.

Mouthguards are for dental protection. Our products have a 0.004% dental injury rate, even in sports such as ice hockey and mixed martial arts (MMA).

So use a mouthguard to protect your teeth, and don't let false advertisements make you believe you are protected against concussions.

Sassa Akervall is the chief operating officer, president, and majority owner of Akervall Technologies.

The comments and observations expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the opinions of, nor should they be construed as an endorsement or admonishment of any particular idea, vendor, or organization.

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