Concussions and Mouth Guards


The claim: After a blow to the jaw, the force travels upward toward the base of the brain. The makers of mouthguards says its design “secures and cushions” the jaw, protecting it from brain-damaging impacts.

The reality: No published evidence exists to show that any mouthguard prevents concussions, said Jason Mihalek, an expert in the biomechanics related to head trauma at the University of North Carolina. Nor have mouthguards been shown to reduce the severity of a head blow, he said. Two mouthguard manufacturers, Shock Doctor and Battle Sports Science, have backed away from claims that they may prevent concussions. “Anecdotally we think they do, but there’s no scientific proof,” said Jay Turkbas, Shock Doctor’s senior vice president of product development and marketing.

The bottom line: Wear mouthguards because they can prevent dental and facial injuries.

Football helmets

The claim: The Xenith X1, which has a series of specially placed shock absorbers, “provides outstanding protection to minimize the likelihood of a concussive episode.”

The reality: For years, manufacturers focused on protecting the skull from fractures, and guidelines from the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment don’t specifically address concussion risk. Still, a recent biomechanical impact study by Virginia Tech researchers found that new football helmets were better than older models at reducing the risk of concussions that some offered more protection than others.

The bottom line: Football helmets are getting better at reducing concussion risk, but not every team can afford new helmets. The Virginia Tech researchers also found that more expensive helmets didn’t necessarily offer more protection. Ratings can be found at through the National Impact Database; the Xenith X1 earned four of five stars.

— June 25, 2011|By Julie Deardorff, Tribune reporter

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