The Mamori mouthguard: Connecting the teeth and the brain

Nov. 27, 2013
Irish inventor, Mark Dillon, was one of 20 finalists for the James Dyson Award 2013. Among over 650 project entries from 18 countries, his innovative Mamori mouth guard stood out. It has potential to start an important conversation between the industry of sports dentistry and the field of neuroscience. Apparently, the mouth and jaw play a much bigger role in concussion than people have realized. What goes on in the mouth can provide the missing pieces of the story behind a concussion, and perhaps save lives. Protection“Mamori” is Japanese for “protect.” Dillon explained that the word represents a kind of good luck charm, a lucky trinket meant to protect its owner in battle. His mouth guard gathers important data, protects the teeth, and acts as an effective gum shield. He said that while designing it, he “didn’t want to compromise the protection it offers.”
Its size is due, in part, to the sensors and technology encased within. However, this also adds better protection than standard rubber mouth guards typically worn in contact sports. The added space between teeth can help absorb some of the force on impact to the chin, mouth, or jaw.RELATED: Mouthguard Madness
Dentists come into play
The Mamori is designed to be custom fit for each player. This means that each player must visit a dentist to have molds taken of their teeth so that Mamori can work properly. That gives the sports dentistry industry the opportunity to begin the education process for these players, who may only be concerned with getting in the game. “One of the biggest problems with concussion and contact sports is that the players don’t want to leave,” Dillon said. “No one wants to drop out of the Super Bowl because they have a sore head.”The concussion discussion
Dillon began his research with a particular interest in ice hockey and Gaelic football, a sport played in Ireland that resembles rugby and soccer. His awareness of the concussion potential in contact sports such as these led him to study helmets. Dillon has a degree in product design and studied medical device design for his master’s degree. Much of his focus was driven by a favorite hockey player’s injury. Sydney Crosby of the Pittsburg Penguins had a major concussion in 2012 that kept him out of several games. It was later discovered that the severity of his injury was caused by not one, but two concussions. This is called a “stacked concussion,” Dillon said, and has cumulative effects that can be deadly. The risk of this happening is high because of how often concussions go undetected. The area of concussion became the subject of Dillon’s college thesis.
Filling the gap
Neurosurgeon Jack Phillips, who worked with Irish boxers, was influential in Dillon’s research. While working alongside him, Dillon learned, “A big concern when working with sports professionals is the inability of the coaching staff and players to actually recognize when a player is concussed.” He went on to say that players are sometimes reluctant to admit a head injury for fear of being unable to play, like Crosby. Another important observation Dillon made in his work with Dr. Phillips is that helmets do what they’re supposed to do. They protect the head and skull, but the brain itself can’t be stopped from moving around inside the skull on impact. “That was really the driving force behind Mamori,” he said.
The mouth/brain connection
The jaw is very important in concussions. In the majority of concussion hits, the injuring blow is received around the mouth and jaw. Dillon explained that when this happens, the jaw and joints get pushed back toward the skull and the force is dissipated there, causing the brain to move around within. Mamori’s sensors are different from those in a helmet, because “it’s right in the prime location of where these impacts actually occur,” Dillon said. Mamori measures force, velocity, and 3-D orientation to show the direction that the head moves. This shows medical staff where to focus to diagnose an injured player more quickly. Dillon plans to further his work on Mamori by looking at the clenching of the teeth and the role that may play in concussions as well. He says that could be important data to further the capabilities of Mamori to provide player information. He also hopes to pair Mamori with a kind of learning software in the future. The idea is that a database could be built on injuries received in contact sports and measured by Mamori. The data could then be cross-referenced between cases to notice trends and rule out possible diagnoses more quickly.Getting to the goal line
For now, Dillon says, the major roadblock to the production and distribution of Mamori is, that there’s no regulation in the sports industry for concussion injury. Education should really go hand in hand with this mouth guard, and that conversation could begin in the dentist’s office. “Guidelines need to be in place,” he said. “Governing bodies need to set standards for a product like this to meet before it can be fully marketed.” Thanks to Mark Dillon’s innovative design, that conversation can begin to take place. Who knew a dentist could potentially provide so much insight into what goes on in the brain? If professional sports players talk with their dentists about protecting their teeth, then they can learn how that affects their jaw, their brain, their careers, and their lives. _____________________________________________________________RELATED:
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