What started as suggestions from umpires and even hockey referees on this blog that led to the post Would You Wear a Mouthguard When Umpiring? (July 9th) where I received much feedback plus my in-depth conversation with MLB Umpire Andy Fletcher (August 17th) where he discussed not only why he wears one but how it works for him, has led to a more mouthguard specific discussion with Jay Turkbas, the VP of Product Development at Shock Doctor on the subject.
In other words, I wanted to know from Jay, if umpires do wear a mouthguard, are there certain types of mouthguards that would work better than others. As Shock Doctor is a leader in this field, who better to answer that question than their head of R&D?
It is worth noting that Jay echoed the sentiment that mouthguards offer more than just protection of teeth and help cushion blows to the mouth and, most importantly, to the brain, even when a helmet is worn, whether it be in contact sports like football or non-contact ones where a moving object is involved like baseball or softball.
He mentioned NFHS data, provided by trainers, that the number #1 injury in baseball is due to a facial impact.
After discussing the unprotected nature of umpires (e.g. no glove as a catcher would have) and the amount of force a baseball can deliver (2,400 psi), he felt that umpires would in fact benefit greatly from their use to help prevent concussions.
Before diving into thoughts on specific mouthguard products, I wanted Jay's expert opinion on the physics and science of concussions and mouthguards as they relate to them.
- Discussion on Physics of a Concussion
From a high end velocity impact to the chin or jaw area (mandible), energy transfers to the jaw's condlye joint (or TMJ) then to the temporal bones at the base of the skull and, ultimately, to the brain. This is one of those knee bone is connected to the ankle bone kind of things. But in this case, it is basically the jaw bone is connected to the skull bone which houses the brain and that any force taken is going to transfer somewhere.
- Discussion on Physics of How a Mouthguard Can Prevent Concussions
The right mouthguard will not only absorb some of the energy by itself that would otherwise have simply transferred, but it is also going to position the jaw in such a way that there is more space in that condyle joint (more separation from jaw bone to skull) thus stopping a good amount of that transfer of energy from a blow to the chin or jaw area.
- Discussion of Other Variables including Differences in People and Research
Some people may be more prone to concussion due to a variety factors including anatomical differences in facial bones and joints. In other words, in the same situation where let's say a baseball hits an umpire traveling at the same speed at the same angle while wearing the same mask, one person may suffer a concussion where another would not.
In addition, most of the research available on mouthguards preventing concussions is anecdotal, which is a fancy word that means there is very little scientific evidence on this subject - imagine testing humans in a laboratory by intentionally shooting baseballs at that them, but instead the evidence included is that many, such as Andy Fletcher, other umpires and athletes in other sports who state unequivocally that it works for them in preventing concussions.
Jay discussed three different mouthguards from Shock Doctor, but feels that one of the newest mouthguards, the Gravity, is potentially the best candidate for umpires in preventing concussions while alleviating previously mentioned concerns. Not only does it offer separation of the condyle joint when worn, but it also is a mouthguard that can be worn on the lower teeth only.
In this way, an umpire can not only still call out a strike, ball or out in an audible manner but can also speak normally to players, coaches and other umpires because the tongue can still touch the top of the mouth. In addition, the lower profile design of the Gravity has a tight fit making it easier to keep it in the mouth while speaking without falling out, alleviating any concerns of having to remove it, wondering what to do with it if one does and any resulting professionalism and/or hygiene issues relating to that.
Furthermore, one can still breath the same while wearing the Gravity as there is no change, as shown in tests, regarding oxygen intake.
Where Do We Go from Here?
First of all, as many of you have started and/or shaped this discussion so far, I would love to hear further your thoughts on this important subject especially as it relates to the above.
I still plan to do some more research. In the meantime, Jay is sending samples of the Gravity and other mouthguards, all of which we would like to have some select umpires wear in the field this fall for feedback purposes.