Mouthguards Protect Athletes Against Concussions

Dentistry Today


Researchers at the University of Calgary have found that mouthguards reduce the risk of concussion in ice hockey. 

“This study is the strongest evidence to date that supports mandatory mouthguard use for youth between the ages of 11 and 17 when playing ice hockey,” said Carolyn Emery, PhD, chair of the Sport Injury Prevention Research Centre at the Faculty of Kinesiology.

Though policy around the use of mouthguards is in place in some areas of Canada, the researchers said it should be more effectively enforced.

“It can be challenging for referees to enforce the use of mouthguards, so we would like to see parents and coaches get involved to ensure they are being used, as we saw a significant reduction in concussion with mouthguard use,” said Brent Hagel, PhD, senior author on the study and professor in the departments of pediatrics and community health sciences at the Cumming School of Medicine.

The researchers looked at players who sustained a concussion during play and at those who sustained an injury but did not have a concussion. They also looked at two types of mouthguards: those that were a dental custom fit, and those that were off-the-shelf. 

Both protected against concussion, with a 64% reduction in the odds of concussion when mouthguards were worn overall. But the protection was statistically significant for off-the-shelf mouthguards and not the custom dental.

Hagel noted that this distinction could be related to a smaller sample size once mouthguard type was considered and that more work is needed in this area.

Mouthguards may protect against concussion because they reduce the forces transmitted to the brain, but further research is necessary to understand the protective mechanism, the researchers said.

“An off-the-shelf mouthguard is an inexpensive and effective way to protect against concussion, but we are in the early days of investigating the biomechanics of the specific types of the mouthguards that are best,” Hagel said.

“The main point is, we are on the right track for this piece of protective equipment, and this is something we want to investigate across multiple contact sports such as football,” Hagel said.

The study began as an undergraduate research project by University of Calgary Kinesiology student Dirk Chisholm, funded by Alberta Innovates-Health Solutions and the Markin Undergraduate Student Research Program for Health and Wellness.

“It was thanks to Dirk Chisholm that this project came to be, as he was tenacious about getting it to the finish line,” said Hagel. 

Chisholm graduated with an undergraduate degree in kinesiology from the University of Calgary and is now attending medical school at the University of Alberta.

“This exciting discovery is the final product of an undergraduate research project which demonstrates the value a strong undergraduate research program can have for our communities,” said Emery.

The study, “Mouthguard Use in Youth Ice Hockey and the Risk of Concussion: Nested Case-Control Study of 315 Cases,” was published by the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

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