With football safety concerns on the rise, more teams are doing what they can to increase mouthguard compliance. League decision makers are frequently mandating mouthguards with attachable tethers to (what they believe) increase compliance and better protect players.
But just because the mouthguard is there, doesn't mean the kids are wearing it properly. Or at all. We get many requests for tethered mouthguards and, after much consideration, we decided the tether wasn't necessary. Here is why...
In theory, attaching a mouthguard to the helmet should increase compliance. It allows coaches and officials to easily see that players are wearing their guards. It also makes it hard for players to lose or forget their guards.
In reality, mouthguards with straps lack in protective properties and obstruct airflow, which may increase the risk of dental and athletic injuries.
First, let's address the materials. All tethered mouthguards are made from EVA. EVA is an elastomer polymer that has soft, flexible and rubber-like properties. It's purpose is to cushion the force of impact, before that impact travels to the teeth. However, conventional mouthguards that are made from this material are too soft to absorb the force of impact, and some of the energy will travel through to player's teeth. Think of a bowling ball and a mattress. When a heavy object is dropped on the soft material, it caves in and compresses to a direct point. The force that travels to the teeth is concentrated at that single point.
Also, tethers can lead to poor mouthguard habits. Young athletes just love to chew their mouthguards to shreds. Because the tether attaches the guard to the helmet, it turns a mouthguard into a perfectly positioned chew toy. Let's be honest, chewing or fish hooking the mouthguard does about as much good for teeth protection as not wearing one at all.
Additionally, mouthguards with straps impact talking and breathing through their sheer bulk. Better breathing and hydration lead to higher endurance during the game. Inversely, poor breathing and dehydration lead to poor athletic performance and increase the risk of injury.
And, let's face it - it's not easy to talk and breathe with a hockey puck sized object in your mouth. And last we checked, football was a team sport that requires communication!
So, what's the answer?
The best solution for keeping players in the mouthguard during the entire game or practice is pretty self-serving for SISU. The easiest way to ensure that players do not remove or lose guards, is to wear custom fit mouthguards. With a comfortable mouthguard that players can talk, breathe and drink with, there should never been a reason to take the guard out of their mouth during game time.
When the mouthguard is in the player's mouth at all times, their teeth are protected continuously, reducing the risk of dental injury. Now add the benefit of being able to talk normally, breathe naturally and stay hydrated during the game - all with the mouthguard in your mouth, and there is no longer a need for a tether.
Every year nearly 600,000 emergency room visits occur due to sports related dental injuries. There is no doubt that there is a need for increased dental injury prevention. But it's time we start looking at more effective and protective solutions that actually work for your team and your sport.