Researchers creating a smart mouth guard

For years, it's been mandatory equipment for athletes. Anyone who's worn a mouth guard knows it takes a while to get used to, but it's necessary to protect the pearly whites. But University of Florida researchers are now molding form and function, with a next generation mouth guard, which could revolutionize sports medicine.


The smart mouth guard is born out of the denture lab at UF's College of Dentistry. Originally, it was designed to tell dentists when patients were grinding their teeth. By adding smart sensors to molded mouth pieces, researchers are able to measure an athlete's heart rate, saliva and body temperature. Gyroscopes help detect hard hits, which could lead to a concussion.   


Dr. Fong Wong is helping lead the project at UF. She showed us how prototypes are molded in the lab, sensors are glued on, and the readings are delivered to an app on a smart phone. Dr. Wong believes it will have a big impact on athletics.


"There's so much data we are not able to collect. The athlete is wearing (the) mouth guard to protect their teeth, so it's a natural occurrence," says Wong. "This would be tremendous."


Tremendous, since head injuries are a top concern; so is heat illness. Practice and play under the summer sun can be grueling. Heat illness can be deadly, and detecting it early can be difficult.


"We know with exertional heat stroke, the best way to diagnose that is with a rectal thermometer. If we can do with a mouth piece, that would be great, but the jury is still out," explains Dr. Seth Smith, a physician with UF Sports Medicine.


It could still be a year before the final mouth guard is ready, but the team, made up of students and faculty from the UF College of Engineering and Dentistry, hope to have a version ready to show at next year's Consumer Electronics Show.