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Do mouthguards enhance athletic performance?

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This question was submitted by a general dentist: From time to time we hear claims that a mouthguard may enhance athletic performance. My question is two-fold, does that make sense from a physiological perspective and is there any evidence to support such claims?

Dr. Phillip Gardiner, Director of Health, Leisure and Human Performance Research Institute and Canada Research Chair in Physical Activity and Health Studies at the University of Manitoba, provided this quick initial response

bigstock-Sports-Mouth-Guard-2818931Many researchers have indeed reported beneficial effects of mouthguards on athletic performance. Most seem to relate to power-type, although there is some evidence that endurance-type events may also benefit through a beneficial effect on gas exchange.

Emphasis in the literature has been placed on the importance of specific and customized mouthguards. Interestingly, many researchers seem to have initiated their studies to determine if there were detrimental effects of mouthguards and found the opposite.

To address the issue of “does it make sense”, it seems that “biting the bullet” using a mouthguard may ignite the same stress response seen with the “fight or flight” response, which involves increased secretion of hormones in the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) complex. These are beneficial for performance: adrenaline and noradrenaline increase blood pressure, reaction time, heart rate, and cortisol, which provides increased glucose to the brain, muscles, and other tissues. Effects may also extend to areas of the brain governing mood and arousal state.

It seems also that some of these fight or flight responses may be beneficial in the short term, but might prove detrimental in longer term, stimulating researchers to find mouthguard designs that prevent teeth from occluding or clenching under stress. In terms of hard evidence, researchers are just now beginning to understand “craniofacial neurometabolic physiology”, and ongoing studies where researchers measure performance, hormonal levels and blood flow to certain specific brain areas with specifically-designed mouthguards will provide more mechanistic answers to this obvious improvement in performance using mouthguards.

Do you need further information on this topic? Do you have any comments or suggestions? Email us at oasisdiscussions@cda-adc.ca

Your are invited to comment on this post and provide further insights by posting in the comment box which you will find by clicking on “Leave a reply“ below. You are welcome to remain anonymous and your email address will not be posted.

 

6 Comments

  1. Dr Curtis Westersund July 3, 2013

    I would suggest that a Mouthguard could have both positive or negative effects on an athletes ability to perform at their maximum potential, simple by altering their occlusion.

    Using a T-scan, I have tested patients before and after having NUCCA (National Upper Cervical Chiropractic Association) chiropractic adjustments of their A/O and A/A joints. 24 Patients were told to bite on the T-scan wafer prior and immediately after their NUCCA adjustments. In all cases of adjustment there were changes in the distribution of forces registered by the T-scan. Some in a negative or less balanced trend and some in a more positive and balanced trend. But each patient showed a change to some degree with the alteration of alignment between the cervical vertebrae and the skull.

    If a change in the bite creates a force to alter cervical alignment then the introduction of a mouthguard will either support or antagonize that cervical alignment. Since a balanced and physiologic posture is important for an individual’s own sense of balance, shoulder and upper body strength and head and neck flexibility, be it for an athlete or non-athelete, occlusion is a key factor in their potential performance. It would follow then that Mouthguards, depending how they are created, will affect their potential performance.
    Dr Curtis Westersund

    Reply
  2. Dr. F July 3, 2013

    Any links to some real research done by an unbiased researcher?

    Reply
    1. Anil Makkar July 4, 2013

      I t amazes me that you would give any time to the cortisol theory , which is totally bogus. This was a marketing ploy by a mouthguard company to make them different from everyone else.

      However , when the correct bite is found on an athlete, a mouthguard will increase their performance. This has been proven by research done at Rutgers University, Ohio State , and the University of Connecticut. Most athletes have forward head posture which limits them to perform at their full potential. some athletes have adapted to this situation and cannot peak any further. When the right bite is found and incorporated into a mouthguard, this decreases the forward head posture symptom and results in performance are noted instantly.

  3. Dr Joe Zucchiatti July 4, 2013

    After a lengthy career in Karate tournament fighting I have found both a mouth guard and athletic supporter with cup to be beneficial. I wore both in every fight and workout but preferred to not avail myself of their benefits whenever possible.
    No effect on performance.

    Reply
  4. Dr. E.J.Chithalen July 4, 2013

    As a Board Member of the Academy for Sports Dentistry, we have a position statement regarding performance enhancement with regards to sports mouthguards.
    Academy for Sports Dentistry Position Statement on the use of Mouthguards and other Oral Appliances for the Prevention of Concussion and Enhancement of Strength and Performance
    The Academy for Sports Dentistry has not yet (2011) identified any sound, independently peer-reviewed, published scientific research which either supports or refutes the wearing of any type of mouthguard or oral appliance for concussion prevention, or athletic performance and strength enhancement. The Academy for Sports Dentistry supports continued and future scientific dialogue and research which has been substantiated by sound, peer reviewed independent scientific data published in credible journals.

    Approved January 27, 2011

    Personally, I think that any improvement is going to be due to an improvement in occlusion and alignment of musculature causing a more relaxed jaw position similar to neuromuscular dental philosophies, but this is purely opinion and any improvement would be very slight – perhaps only noticeable in elite athletes, if at all.

    Reply
  5. JCDA Oasis July 5, 2013

    By Dr. Curtis Westersund:

    I would suggest that a Mouthguard could have both positive or negative effects on an athletes ability to perform at their maximum potential, simple by altering their occlusion.

    Using a T-scan, I have tested patients before and after having NUCCA (National Upper Cervical Chiropractic Association) chiropractic adjustments of their A/O and A/A joints. 24 Patients were told to bite on the T-scan wafer prior and immediately after their NUCCA adjustments. In all cases of adjustment there were changes in the distribution of forces registered by the T-scan. Some in a negative or less balanced trend and some in a more positive and balanced trend. But each patient showed a change to some degree with the alteration of alignment between the cervical vertebrae and the skull.

    If a change in the bite creates a force to alter cervical alignment then the introduction of a mouthguard will either support or antagonize that cervical alignment. Since a balanced and physiologic posture is important for an individual’s own sense of balance, shoulder and upper body strength and head and neck flexibility, be it for an athlete or non-athlete, occlusion is a key factor in their potential performance. It would follow then that Mouthguards, depending how they are created, will affect their potential performance.

    Further Comments:

    The approach of linking occlusion and posture is new and unfamiliar territory for many dentists. But after 11 years of using NUCCA Chiropractors in my TMD therapy I can attest that the stability of the patient improves dramatically when the whole physiologic system is attended to.

    If a person has a malocclusion (and I think that the majority of humans on this earth today have a less than ideal occlusion for a variety of reasons) then there is a direct consequence of the cervical component to accommodate the malocclusion and muscle tension, muscle trigger points and vestibular balance issues accompany the changes.

    Athletes need balance. Olympic track athletes have intricate massage therapy prior to races. It is what they need to be at peak performance. For them, muscle balance/function is key. Airway is key. While Track is not a contact sport, a change in occlusion from a mouthguard can also affect balance and airway, in either a positive or negative manner.

    Reply

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