The newest athletic advantage could soon be chomping at the bit.
Researchers at the University of Florida are developing a smart mouthguard with athletic applications after they recently made one that could detect how often someone grinds their teeth.
Yong-Kyu Yoon, an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at UF, and a team of researchers are working on the mouthguard, which will contain 11 sensors, Yoon said.
The sensors will work together to record different pieces of information during athletic activity. Yoon said each mouthguard will be custom fit to a person based on a mold of his or her mouth to ensure comfort.
Yoon also said the team has three different focuses for the mouthguard: heart, heat and head.
The heart component records a player’s vital signs to prevent heart issues.
The heat component monitors the body for signs of dehydration and heat strokes during exercise.
The head component aims to limit concussions by observing the impact and location of blows to a person’s head.
However, Dr. James Clugston, a UF football team physician, said there is no universal line in determining whether someone sustained a concussion.
“The misunderstanding that the public has is that sensors would diagnose concussions,” he said. “It just hasn’t proven to be true.”
According to Dr. Clugston, who has consulted with Yoon and his team on the mouthguard, the ongoing question involves retrieving the data and interpreting its information.
Dr. Clugston said staff members, such as those that monitor the sensors for UF’s football helmets, need to manage the mouthguards. He also pointed out that some athletes might not want others to know the forces they’re experiencing.
Despite the setbacks, Dr. Fong Wong, an associate professor at UF who is developing the mouthguard with Yoon and his team, said their technology will play a big part in the future of sports.
“It’s on the horizon,” she said. “I have no doubt.”
Dr. Wong said she often works with dental prosthetics. Her role with the research team is to help embed sensors into the mouthguards. She also pointed out that since athletes wear mouthguards anyway, it would be beneficial to collect information on their performance vitals.
The first version of the mouthguard, which was used for dental purposes, won second-place at an International Contest of Applications in Nano/Micro Technologies in Anchorage, Alaska. At the beginning of the summer, Yoon and his team sat down with UF physicians to develop an idea of a sports-related mouthguard.
Fast forward a few months later and the team already has a prototype in place. The bigger issue is perfecting the software and algorithm development to make it functional, according to Yoon.
The mouthguards use a Bluetooth connection to link to an app compatible with any Android device. Yoon said making one for Apple devices shouldn’t be an issue.
Yoon said he hopes to test the mouth guard on one or two high school football teams as a trial run in early 2016. If all goes well, he hopes the UF football team will adopt them, with a long-term goal being to target professional teams.
Players may be hesitant about sticking metal in their mouths. Yoon said the barrier will be lowered once people understand the medical advantages that the equipment brings.
He identified three or four similar products being developed. However, Yoon said there should be enough initial market space for all of them to succeed.
As for future plans, he said saliva-based monitoring may be a next step, which is important to obtaining information on a person’s medical conditions.
“This has a huge potential for medical application,” Yoon said.