Whoa, here’s one I never expected to hear: mouth-guards may actually be cool.*
According to Sarah Boden Shae of this little publication we like to call The New York Times, mouth-guards are rising up the popularity ranks as A Device to De-Stress Your Workout. Now with the fresh new title of “performance mouthpieces,” these flexible rubber devices that used to be passed out as freebies at Toothgrinders Anonymous meetings are now wildly expensive pieces of athletic equipment.
These performance mouthpieces aren’t designed to protect your teeth from danger. In other words, we’re used to seeing bulky football players, basketball hot-shots and crazy-eyed hockey participants slipping giant guards into their mouth because let’s face it—they’re playing contact sports that could (and do) result in the loss of teeth. In contrast, performance mouthpieces are specifically for enhancing performance while offering very modest teeth protection. According to Shae, “Dentists say these high-end mouth guards can open up the airways, prevent teeth-clenching and align the jaw. Being able to take in more air while exercising has obvious benefits — more oxygen for working muscles — while a relaxed jaw can decrease stress and help an athlete’s body function more efficiently.” In other words, keeping your mouth relaxed allows more air to come in and be utilized by the body.
These performance mouthpieces are not all flowers and sausages though. Shae reports, “While the products’ potential benefits may sound good, it isn’t clear how much of an edge they actually confer. A study sponsored by Makkar in 2008 at Rutgers University found that athletes wearing Pure Power Mouthguards could jump higher and perform better at their peak, but it did not find that their endurance was any better.” Unlike the long term benefits of sunscreen, it appears that the benefits—short and long term—of these little mouth guards has yet to be determined.
What does all this mean? Well, performance mouthpieces will cost you a pretty penny: somewhere between $500-$2500 before you even have the piece custom fit by a dentist. And all that cost might not move you up in your ranking at a road race. However, I have two theories as to why a performance mouthpiece might be worth your time and money:
1. Sometimes, we just need to believe something is going to make us better than we already are in order to break on through to the other side of what we’re capable of. The placebo effect, in other words. If you believe a performance mouthpiece is going to drive you forward, it very well may.
2. I think anything we can do as runners/bikers/non-contact sporty people that enhances the way we breathe is a good thing. As novices, we exercise for the simple act of wanting to be healthy. Sometimes, the idea that we can do something rather simple to achieve that goal is really liberating. All we’re asked to do is slip in a mouthpiece, and it very well may help how we engage in the breathing process. And while we’re not perhaps interested in being the best in the world at what we do, there very well may be benefits to better breathing in our daily lives that aren’t being measured by scientists right now.
My grandmother, Betty, used to tell me that one of the best things I could do for myself and my health was breathe. That if I ever had a few minutes to myself with nothing to do, I should take a few deep breaths. I don’t think breathing a little better and with a little less stress is something to dismiss right off the bat.
*Tangent time: I can’t help but be warped back to the time of the dreaded head-gear that sometimes accompanied braces on the tiny faces of my elementary school classmates. Notice I said classmates, not friends. Because I hadn’t embraced my inner geek at the age of six, and was pretty sure those head-gear wearing kids were secretly robots in disguise, and not the awesome kind of Go-Bot or Transformer or Voltron; the really evil kind that would take your lunch from you and then make fun of what your mom had packed you in front of the entire table.