Smart Mouthguards Debut in Elite Rugby

Smart Mouthguards Debut in Elite Rugby

A dental innovation may play a key part in the fight to stop a popular sport being drastically curtailed on safety grounds.

The risk of brain damage, remains an increasing concern particularly in football, boxing and rugby. Eric Anderson, Professor of Sport Health and Social Sciences at the University of Winchester, has recently suggested that the long-term consequences of rugby tackles can lead to earlier death. Anderson went as far as describing tackling in youth rugby as ’child abuse,’ and said that it can cause CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy) – a form of dementia.

Refuting Andersons claims, England and British and Irish Lions winger Ugo Monye, pointed to the part smart mouth guards are playing in rugby’s fight to make the sport safer at all levels.

“We saw last week in round one of the Six Nations we’ve got instrumented mouth guards which are able to detect in real time the amount of G-forces that goes through players’ heads,” He explained that in the second round of the tournament a player was removed on the basis of information from one of the devices that he was wearing, which had been sent across via a signal to an independent doctor. “The player was baffled by what was going on. We are doing more and more,” Monye said.

First reported by GDPUK in 2022 these devices are fitted with sensors that can track impacts that the wearer is subjected to. Trialled initially by Harlequins they were used at an international level for the first time in Scotland’s defeat by France in the Six Nations. Back in 2022 there were reservations from some players about wearing the devices, feeling that they did not need them. By the Six Nations match almost every player was wearing one. At Murrayfield the Scotland hooker, George Turner’s device was able to send an alert to one of the doctors at the pitch-side after a tackle. The doctors are able to monitor events via an app on their tablets. Turner’s removal from the pitch for an assessment in the seventeenth minute marked the first time that an elite player had been flagged by the system.

While Harlequins used the Protecht mouth guard, manufactured by UK Company Sports and Wellbeing Analytics, World Rugby and the RFU have decided to work with a competing product, version 2.0 from Prevent Biometrics which claims to be the only device able to produce in-game alerts.

There has been some debate about the threshold that should trigger removal for assessment, with the devices set at 70G for male players. A lower setting would result in players being removed more often which would affect the flow of the game, with one removal per match being seen as the limit of acceptability.  There was a delay between Turner’s impact and his removal of five minutes, in part due to the device’s Bluetooth connectivity and range.

Every player in this year’s tournament has opted to use the devices apart from four who are medically exempt from wearing mouth guards, often as a result of a severe gag reflex.

In 2024 World Rugby will spend £1.7 million on the mouth guards for elite competitions. Beyond this it is hoped that the concussion protocols will evolve to a point where they can track the players long term brain health.

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