Gumshields (or mouthguards) recently made the headlines when England centre Manu Tuilagi was fined £4,800 by Rugby World Cup officials for wearing a branded gumshield during England’s win over Georgia (see this link for an amusing interview).
In the game of rugby the gumshield is pretty much the only piece of safety equipment that we use, but how much do you really know about it?
What do they do?
In nutshell, gumshields prevent/reduce dental trauma and concussions in the event of direct and indirect hits to the jaw.
How do they work?
Gumshields act like a shock absorber by spreading the force over a larger area and increasing the time for the peak force to occur. Spreading the energy of the blow out over a larger area reduces its effect and prevents or greatly reduces any injury.
If, for example, a blow is slowed down by the flexible surface of a gumshield in 4 milliseconds, rather than the 1 millisecond it would take if the same blow directly struck the hard surface of a tooth, then the maximum force transmitted would be ¼ the size. A very dramatic reduction!
Without a gumshield a blow to the lower face will send shock waves through the skull and a direct impact can fracture the front teeth. Other blows, particularly to the lower jaw, can cause damage to movement or loss of teeth. In some cases, the transmitted forces can lead to a fracture of the lower jaw, or will travel through the jaw joint into the base of the skull causing a concussion. Read more about the science.
Gumshields cannot guarantee complete injury prevention and injuries can still occur even when a gumshields is used if the player is not using a good gumshield or if the gumshield is the wrong size.
That means that you need to have a gumshield that fits your mouth or you may be increasing your injury risk. Better fit = better safety.
What is the best kind of gumshield?
Stock/ready-made gumshields are no good
A few players I know use these kinds of gumshields all the time and they really are no good. It is one thing to slip one on when you have left yours at home and have no other choice, but manufactured gumshields in a pre-formed shape have basically no room for adjustment to fit a player’ mouth, so don’t use these regularly.
“Boil and bite” gumshields are an ok option
If you don’t want to spend the money on a custom-made gumshield, gumshields that you boil and bite are an ok option. These gumshields are made from a thermo-plastic material manufactured in a pre-formed shape that can be adapted to fit a player’s teeth and gums by heating and molding the gumshield. This is usually done by placing the gumshield in boiling water and then putting it in the mouth and sucking on the gumshield until it reaches the desired form. These gumshields vary in cost from around £7-40.
Some “Boil and bite” gumshields now incorporate special features which increase retention and give an improved fit and better breathability. Although these are the most common types of gumshields for amateur rugby players and do provide some protection, they are typically substantially thinner in the important areas than custom gumshields and are less comfortable.
Custom-made gumshields are the best option
If you play rugby on a weekly basis, there really is no reason why you should not have a custom-made gumshield. Although this takes more time than a “boil and bite” gumshield, it is the best for preventing the risk of injury and there are now some affordable options out there for less than £50.
Custom gumshields adapt far more closely to teeth than boil-and-bites. The reason for this is simple – the machines that make custom gumshields work at far higher temperatures than can be applied in the mouth and at pressures many times greater than can be produced by biting and sucking! For exactly the same heat and pressure reasons, the thickness of a custom gumshields can be optimized in the laboratory, whereas a boil and bite will be thinner and will vary widely depending on the user.
Typically, boil-and-bite gumshields are substantially thinner in the important areas than custom gumshields. This extra thickness provides more sponginess which in turn ensures that an impacting object will decelerate over a longer time.
The extra thickness of the custom gumshield means that it can be compressed far further than a boil-and-bite gumshield before springing back. This ‘sponginess’ uses a great deal of energy and thus less energy remains to be translated as force to the player. This reduces the player’s risk of injury and concussion.
Greater Elasticity = Less Energy = Less Damage
How do you get a custom gumshield made?
Most dental surgeries will fit you for one, send the molding to the supplier of your choosing and they will send you the gumshield. It takes between 1-2 weeks. Figure out a supplier first by searching online. All this takes is a quick google search.
If going to a dentist surgery is what is holding you up, there are now Self Impression Systems that you can use to take impressions of their own teeth and send back in the box provided (See sample instructions here or here). The gumshield is then sent straight to you! If this is something that interests you, check out the following sites:
Also, a lot of companies will do great deals if you order in bulk, so talk to your team captain or kit rep to sort out an order for the whole team and check out offers online.
Other Non-Safety Aspects of Gumshields
Speech – the ability of a sports person to communicate whilst on the field of play is paramount (scrum-halfs everywhere pay attention). Speech is achieved by a complex set of muscular movements, but two of the main components are the tongue and the lips. A poorly fitting gumshield will make speech difficult and interfere with clarity.
Breathing – optimum athletic performance requires unrestricted flow of air into the lungs. Any object that restricts the flow of this air will also reduce the athlete’s uptake of oxygen. A well fitted gumshield will not move around the mouth and will therefore allow the athlete to open their mouth to inhale or exhale fully.
Comfort – the best gumshield is one that the athlete forgets he or she is wearing. Any item that is uncomfortable or causes irritation can reduce the athlete’s performance. A badly fitted gumshield can have an impact on your performance.
Personalisation (within the rules) – gumshields can be truly individual). This means you can pick your team colours or, more importantly, prevent players from picking it up and trying to put it into their mouth – preventing the risk of bacterial or viral infection.
Flavoured – personally I am thrilled when my gumshield doesn’t taste like grass, but there are now flavoured gumshields available (see MoGo Sport LLC if interested). Their patented technology embeds the flavor right into the plastic resin, so as long as the plastic retains its integrity, the flavor lasts. This may be a good was of providing incentive for younger players to stay safe.
Orthodontic Braces – it is possible to make custom gumshields for players with orthodontic braces, although they may require some ongoing management.
Care & Maintenance
The last thing to remember is to clean your gumshield regularly after each match as bacteria will build up. You can soak the gumshield in anti-bacterial Denture cleaner for 15 minutes, brush (without tooth paste) and rinse. There are also gumshield cleaning tablets, which are under a fiver for a pack of 20, so you should consider checking these out (£4.79 for a pack of 20 including P&P).
FREE GUMSHIELD OFFER
FindRugbyNow is keen to get our readers the best in rugby equipment and gear. To get you safe we have teamed up with OPRO to provide 10 lucky winners with their very own custom-fit gumshield (£50 value)!
Details of the competition: Everyone that posts in our FORUM before 14 APRIL will be entered into a raffle to win a FREE OPRO-SHIELD SELF IMPRESSION KIT that comes from the OPRO sponsorship programme. These are the same single colour white guards that OPRO supplies to sponsored individual players (like Manu Tuilagi)! We have 10 to give away so start posting!