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From youth football all the way through the NFL, football teams are constantly looking for any way to help prevent head injuries. In a violent sport, it’s easier said than done.
With concussion awareness growing by the day and many teams expanding the protocol after a head injury, the Elizabethtown football team believes it took a major step in advancing that process Thursday afternoon.
The Panthers gathered at Carnes Family Dental to get fitted for Pro-form mouth guards, which are supposed to help prevent concussions.
They came in eight at a time in 15-minute increments to take impressions from Dr. Ann Carnes, Rachel Todd and several other staff members as some Elizabethtown cheerleaders provided assistance.
“I can’t say these are going to keep them from having concussions, but it reduces their risk while playing their sport,” Todd said. “When your jaw gets hit hard, if your teeth get slammed together, it increases your chance of getting a concussion. Reports suggest that professional mouth guards help reduce the risk of concussion by reducing the force transmitted by a blow to the jaw.”
While the primary function of mouth guards is to protect the teeth and orofacial structures, Pro-form mouthguards can be an asset to teams in helping them keep their players safe and on the field. With nearly every head injury being classified as a concussion nowadays, it can be a challenge.
“We had two or three serious concussions last year. Maybe a (better) mouth piece would have prevented it. I’m not a doctor so I don’t know all the research about your jaw slamming down,” said Elizabethtown coach Adam Billings. “But any advantage we can get to help our kids out, we’ll take it.”
Most teams issue standard mouth guards made up of rubber and cheap plastic, which the players can wear down quite easily.
“The old ones are real uncomfortable and you can bite through them a lot easier than I’m hoping these will,” said junior wide receiver Thad Humphrey. “They’re thin. They’re rubbery.”
Since the mouthguards are hard when they first get them, many players boil them to soften them up and try to form them to their teeth. They can cut and attempt to reconfigure them, but the mouthguards still usually end up as a hindrance.
“They get kind of old and don’t feel real good in your mouth,” said senior lineman Brandon Cochran. “They’re bulky so you can’t talk. If you get really tired, you have to take it out to breathe. Some people don’t wear them, but you’re supposed to. I haven’t worn a mouthpiece in three years of playing. They just take up so much room and are really uncomfortable.”
The Pro-form model is much more advanced and is even used in the NHL. After the players took impressions, they were filed in bags with the player’s name on them and will be created by laminating two soft layers of ethylene vinyl acetate together.
“They’re thicker and fit tight to their teeth, so they literally snap in and out,” Todd said. “They fit over their bony ridge. It’s a custom-fit and fits tight, so if they were to clamp down, there is no movement of the teeth and the teeth can’t snap together. And they’re not so thick that they’re obtrusive. They can still breathe well, but they don’t flub around in their mouth.”
Each year, Carnes takes some of the staff to Cancun for continuing education courses. While there several years ago, they learned about custom-fit mouth guards and were advised to introduce local football teams to the idea of using them to help prevent concussions.
At the time, Todd said she didn’t think it was possible for her office to sell them because of the high costs in producing them. But in time, they were able to purchase the proper equipment.
Carnes Family Dental decided to offer the mouth guards to their patients at a reduced fee because they can cost around $400 when ordering. With the staff able to make them in-house, the recommended cost is $250 but because they are a new product, the office decided to sell them for $75.
Todd hopes they become more popular because they are comfortable and most importantly, they work. Eventually, more and more teams could start using them.
“I think it’s the next step,” said sophomore quarterback Jack Wilson. “If a pitcher gets hit in the head in baseball, they try to get him a different hat or something. But I think this stuff will work better. It won’t be uncomfortable.”
The Panthers got them at a significantly discounted rate as Todd’s son – sophomore Grant – plays for the team and Carnes is an Elizabethtown graduate. But most schools probably won’t have the same opportunity, as Billings pointed out.
“I think there’s a lot of teams out there who would like to do it, but unless they have an alum calling up and saying ‘Hey come on over and we’ll take care of it’, that’s going to be the last thing they’re worried about,” Billings said. “A mouthpiece that costs the same price as a helmet… if you asked a lot of the other schools around, they’d be buying new helmets. It’s a huge advantage for us.”
Ryan O’Gara can be reached at (270) 505-1754 or firstname.lastname@example.org.