Kevin Love and the Shock Doctor Look to Bring Mouthguard Technology to All Basketball Players

From Freddy Lopez, SportTechie

Most of the consumer-facing sports gadgets that have debuted of late invariably attempt to answer some level of the concussion dilemma. Mouthpieces, like Force Impact Technologies’ FITGuard, have gradually entered this domain to provide another piece in that ongoing puzzle. These overtures, though, cannot completely cover the gamut of intricacies involved in safety protocols, especially on their own and its technology as individual silos. The latter, in particular, has some ways to go before accurately deducing its connection to any effects pertinent to the brain.

Yet, it’s the very mouthguard, itself, and its fundamental purpose for usage that warrants some attention to--even more so from the entire basketball community.

At this time, the National Federation of State High School Associations only makes wearing mouthguards a prerequisite for football, ice hockey, lacrosse, and field hockey. The vast majority sports-related dental and orofacial injuries inflict the upper lip, maxilla, and maxillary incisors without wearing a mouthguard. It’s been estimated that the annual cost to aid these kind of injuries sustained by young athletes across all sports to be in the $1.8 billion neighborhood.

Basketball players, though, between the ages of 13 through 17 are the most linked to frequent dental issues. The American Dental Association’s studies claim that these players are 15 times more likely to deal with orofacial damage than those that play football. They’re a part of the 68 percent that don’t wear mouthpieces for practices or games among the “non-contact” sports. All of these instances contribute towards the roughly three million teeth that are knocked out each year within youth sports.

Despite this reality, there hasn’t been much emphasis for mouthguards in basketball circles. The Shock Doctor, a Minnesota-based manufacturer of protective and performance sports equipment, has been developing mouthpieces for over 20 years, with the goal to reduce the frequency and severity of facial injuries through increasing the adoption of mouthguards to hoopers of all levels. Recently, they’ve agreed to a long-term deal with now Cleveland Cavalier Kevin Love to elevate this exposure.

“He believes in the value of protection it offers players against teeth and jaw injury; and has committed to help increase awareness on the use of mouthguards to be relevant to youth athletes, parents, and governing bodies,” Tony Armand, Chief Executive Officer of Shock Doctor Sports, tells SportTechie with respects to Love’s involvement, granted he’s sported mouthguards dating back to his UCLA-playing days.

While collegiate and pro basketball players visibly wear mouthpieces, Armand points to the ratio disparity of the former compared to high school and younger players. The current climate merely stands at less than 10 percent usage in youth basketball. The data notwithstanding, the general perception of basketball not being a “contact” due to minimal body protection requirements has played a role. Football and hockey, naturally, have overshadowed basketball for “impact” injuries, especially because of the ever-looming concussions.

Concurrently, the Shock Doctor has pioneered multi-layered material mouthguards through the years, designed to both absorb and delect impact, while providing a high level of fit and retention. They have sent to market numerous versions of these multi-layered products; multiple patents have allowed them to leverage these materials and designs accordingly.

In terms of the mouthguard’s design process, Armand states it’s proprietary: “Generally, we always want to provide a protective and comfortable range of mouthguard models that as you progress through our line, you will enjoy a lower profile, yet great-fitting mouthguard that improves the athlete’s ability to speak and breathe more easily.”

Such development falls in line with dentist’s standards. Of the dentists that do make custom mouthguards, the major components aim to provide comfort and retention. By doing so, the product can then be protective and wearable enough for the athlete on a consistent basis. Custom mouthguards, though, aren’t typically purchased by consumers due to price points--or worn by athletes, themselves, for that matter. The keys are making self-fit and affordable ones.

According to the latest findings found in the National High School Sports-Related Injury Surveillance Study administered by the University of Colorado in Denver, the second most prevalent injured body region in basketball is the face, nearly 25 percent and 22 percent of all types of injuries for girls and boys, respectively. These figures have been consistent in the last few years of the study, further supporting the need for proper basketball mouthguards to be made.

Of note, the product that Love, himself, is endorsing is called the Ultra Basketball Mouthguard. The technological features that create a comfortable fit for the user are the Form-Fit Chassis and the Gel-Fit Liner. The first consists of a unique, bio-mechanically produced shape that conforms to the organic dimensions of every tooth. As for the latter, it’s a custom mold that keeps the mouthguard in place. Both of which stem from a longer interval of time at lower temperatures. The resulting custom-like, low profile fit enables users to talk and breathe easier during game action. Its fit so well insofar as some basketball players “may never remove it until the game is over.”

“We eliminated the tether hole, which increases bulk. And reduced the volume inside the mouth...within reason, for protection’s sake. So, that the feel and adaptation to allow for the demands of higher lung VO2 volume wasn’t impeded while running up and down the court,” continued Armand in response to consumers wanting a “for basketball” mouthguard and the technology modification to realize it.

Down the line, there’s a possibility for Mandibular Oral Repositioning Appliance (MORA) technology to be integrated with this model, which would help athletes’ performance in neck and shoulder strength, too.

And for those mouthguards that are pushing the envelope beyond its protection function, Armand suggests that the design and development for those added characteristics have to be weighed against consumer demand for practical benefit, albeit bearing fitness enhancement promise.

Once there’s scientific research with good data that elicits mouthpieces can, indeed, factor into the aforementioned concussion prevention, Shock Doctor would welcome it for their own designs as well.

“If it works for him, then that means something,” Armand, after all, believes in Love as an ideal spokesperson for the Shock Doctor to double-team the lack of mouthguard technology acceptance among all basketball players.

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