News & Politics

Top Dentists 2013: Can Dentistry Make You a Better Athlete?

A mouthguard may increase an athlete's oxygen intake.

A mouthguard may increase an athlete’s oxygen intake. Photograph courtesy of Under Armour.

Dentists not only keep patients’ smiles radiant—they’re also
helping athletes become better, faster, and stronger.

Specialists in the growing field of neuromuscular dentistry are
designing sports-performance mouthguards for serious athletes who desire a
boost during competition.

The devices work by releasing jaw tension in athletes, who tend
to clench their teeth while training and competing, says Tenleytown
dentist Eugene Giannini. “DC is a city of clenchers and grinders,” he
says, adding that he’s even noticed people in his yoga class tightening
their jaws. This constant tension saps energy and reduces oxygen intake,
causing an athlete to lose momentum. That’s where the mouthguard comes

By using a scanning machine that tracks a patient’s jaw
movements and motor skills, dentists can find the precise position at
which the facial muscles are most relaxed, says Dr. Alex Naini of Vienna,
who treats local athletes including Redskins linebacker Lorenzo Alexander.
Then the patient is fitted with a mouthguard, which moves the jaw forward,
releasing tension and opening the airway to allow for increased oxygen
intake. The plastic guards are similar to the ones that some athletes,
such as hockey players, wear to protect their teeth.

While research on the effects of sports-performance mouthguards
is sparse, one small study published in Compendium of Continuing
Education in Dentistry
found that wearing a special mouthguard
improved participants’ auditory and visual reaction times when they’re
given a specific task to perform.

Football players aren’t the only athletes getting fitted; Naini
says the mouthpiece is also popular with golfers, baseball players, and
weightlifters. Better performance comes at a price: Custom mouthguards
typically cost $1,500 to $2,000.

If you’re interested in a custom-fit, sports-performance
mouthguard, look for a dentist who has taken a series of seminars or
courses on the technology—two major brands are ArmourBite and
ActionGuard—and who belongs to an organization such as the Academy for
Sports Dentistry, the American Academy of Craniofacial Pain, the American
Academy of Sleep Medicine, the American Academy of Orofacial Pain, or the
American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine. Your chances of getting a
proper fit are better if a practitioner is well versed in treating sleep
apnea and other neuromuscular conditions, such as TMJ.

Top Dentists 2013 ››